Category Archives: Nature

On the Jordan at Dusk

Knowing the beaver come out in the evening, I launched from Porter’s Landing at 7:00 p.m. and sprinted three miles upstream, then turn and paddled slowly and quietly with the current, looking for beaver.  I saw 7 beaver, 3 great blue heron, 2 black-capped night heron, and a belted kingfisher: all miraculous.  I arrived at the launch just as the dark settled in.  By the time I hauled out, this poem had composed itself and was gently asking to be written.

On the Jordan at Dusk

settle into the rhythm…
dip and pull…
breathe…
dip and pull…
breathe…
wiggle
on the keel…

Belted Kingfisher
splashes indigo and rust
on white canvas…

Great Blue Heron
flies low and wide toward me,
and I wonder if I resemble a fish…

pink petals and perfume
droop transfigured into ripe
red rose hips…

evening’s green aromas
drift over the water,
warm and pungent…

silent beaver swim
in the shadows of a gibbous moon,
waning…

Osprey Brings a Snake for Her Crying Chick

During a visit to Greer, Arizona, we played at River Reservoir, where I searched for the Osprey my sister had seen weeks before.  The children canoed and fished for crayfish and napped on a quilt under the pines, while I scanned the sky.  The tree-top nest stood tall in front of me, and I was not disappointed:

Osprey Brings a Snake for Her Crying Chick

on a barkless ponderosa snag
ascending the hill—
a lightning kill—
a nest of rough twigs tangled
in the crook of its crown

a beak rises
peaks out and over
scans from north to south to north again

and from that beak a hunger call:
cry cry cry cry cry cry cry—

then the long wait for the mother

and the regurgitated trout:

              cry cry cry cry cry—

Here she comes!
swooping through pine tops
a snake slack with death dangling
from the ebony nails of her talons

Roger Baker is a municipal attorney, aspiring poet, and amateur naturalist.  He 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.

When a Feather Falls from an Osprey

This is my staff.  An old mountain-man friend, Harvey, whose Indian name is Many Feathers, taught me the technique of shaving the feather shafts and curling them back into themselves to make a loop, then threading a string to tie to the staff.  Thus attached, the feathers sway freely in the breeze without damage.  Watching it rest in a corner, I wonder why I made it and what it means, to me, today.  Well, perhaps it is enough that the feathers are beautiful, and that I carved the staff, and that I love them.  Is more rationale needed?  This poem imagines finding real raptor feathers, creating a staff, and pondering the meanings.

When a Feather Falls from an Osprey

when a feather falls from an Osprey
wing and lies on a lakeshore
path a boy might find

her and raise her up and stroke
along her stiff-soft vane and hide
her in his sleeping bag

to take home, and, when
considerably older, he might learn
from Many Feathers to drape

her from a staff carved smooth,
from a waxy string tied through
a loop in her shaved shaft

where she sways
in an air-conditioned corner
with companions

—and just what are they for?
—what do they mean, now?
dead feathers not

flying just remembering
flights taken—short bursts—and more
merely dreamed of—

 

(All feathers depicted are lawfully possessed.)

I Have Never Heard Such Joy

On a canyon ride through gambel oaks, a streak of scarlet and yellow caught my eye, and the prettiest cascading song pleasured my ears.  I stopped my bicycle and stared at the miraculous little creature.  She in turn eyed me curiously and opened her beak in renewed song.  How could I not try to write her into a poem, though she remains joyfully wild in the woods?

I Have Never Heard Such Joy

I have never heard
such joy
as when a tanager opened
her soul to sing her trilling
song: a symphony compressed in
a single glorious line—

and, I know I should not
begin a poem with “I”
but to pen “much joy was heard” simply
will not do, for
I saw her scarlet streak through green,
I heard her delightsomeness,
I discerned her eager joy—

and as I stared, baffled
and thrilled, she again yielded up,
again, knowing
I could not
fathom after hearing but once her cleansing
cascade of happiness

 

Image by PublicDomainImages from Pixabay

Roger Baker is a municipal attorney, aspiring poet, and amateur naturalist.  Roger 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.

I Would Love To See the River in that Way

The river pulls me back and back, and I see from the level of the water what I cannot see from the high-bank trail.  They look at me wistfully, wanting.  They can have it, if they will look.  This new poem tells what I saw, and how you can see it, too.

I Would Love To See the River in that Way

 

a cyclist braked

and waved:

 

                                                Have you seen anything interesting

                                    on the river

            today? Any wild things?

 

Oh, always . . .

            always.

                        I have to remember: I cannot

                                    make them come.  I

                                                allow them, if

                                                            they will . . .

 

heron dropped from the sky, not

beating her wings even once, just

expertly angling, dangling

crooked legs

 

and five fluffy goslings disappeared

in dive, rising obscured under

dark bank branches

 

and old red slider slid

from his sunning log

 

and beaver sat munching

a willow stem straight

on: I could see

chisel teeth, black-bead eyes,

little red hands holding

the bough: he dove

with a splashy slap, more

annoyed than alarmed:

and I felt so happy—

 

she looked past,

and I began to drift.

 

            I would love to see

                                    the river

                                                in that way.

 

Roger Baker is a municipal attorney, aspiring poet, and amateur naturalist.  Roger 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.

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.

Supping from Pink Silk Blossoms

Spreading its canopy over the back corner of the lot of my childhood home grew a Mimosa tree.  I relished the pleasing sight of its abundant aromatic feathery flowers, running the soft leaflets gently through my hands.  I marveled at the dozens of swallowtails visiting the pink blossoms.  This corner was magical for its tree.  Here is my memory, in a poem.

SUPPING FROM PINK SILK BLOSSOMS

Mimosa blooms spring open in soft pink spheres,
smelling sweet, seducing me to slow my walking-by
and turn for another slow pass, but I do not pass by
but climb in to sit in a high wide crook. Feather
leaves waft, gently, brush my face, gently. There I
luxuriate in soft green light, lean back against pale
smooth bark, pull in the perfume, and black swallow
tails and tiger swallowtails flit all over and around.

This same silk tree threw father out when he pruned
a branch on a very hot and humid Saturday, and he
lay unconscious on the soft grass concealing stony
earth, three ribs cracked.

Image by Chorengel 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.

Bid Them Come When I Am Quiet


(Mama and me in Rio, December 1964)

I seem to be always reading or writing or working–doing, doing, doing.  But sweetness of memory and poetry come in the non-doing, the quiet times, when we ponder and reflect.  I took a rare moment to reminisce, on this leap year day, and make this poetic offering.

Bid Them Come When I Am Quiet

shall I sit here on the grass
under this old apple bough
and conjure some old memory—

as when I reclined propped and
pillowed in a wicker picnic basket
on Copacabana’s broad sands:

but that scene belongs to my Mother
who recounted it to me
her eyes still reflecting the Brazilian sea—

or when my friend snagged
his lure in my neck
on the dock at Lake Seneca

and I hollered good and loud
for the sting of fear
and a ruined afternoon of bass fishing—

perhaps that blue-sky day we stopped the car
on the way through Paraná to cut wild lemon grass,
its perfume lingering sweetly these long years—

I finally netted the elusive Red-spotted Purple,
and pinned its beauty to a board
where it never lived brightly—

we wandered through the meadow
with Mom to pick asparagus, and at home
picked the ticks off of us—

I felt happy to carry
my sister, who grew tired
on the hike to Sunfish Pond—

 

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Image by ASSY 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.

Thoughts about the Inside and Outside of Caves

While visiting my first grandchild with her parents in Kentucky, we chose to spend a day in Mammoth Cave National Park.  Progressing, stooped, through the cave as we took notes on what we noted, I suggested to my son, Brian, a professional writer, that we should each compose a poem of our cave experience, and exchange them with each other.  Here is my effort.

Thoughts about the Inside and Outside of Caves

outside,
the river rises with yesterday’s rains, and tree trunks
are submerged, and footpaths are submerged, all in
a swirling brown tangle, and roads and bridges
are consumed in opaque immersion

studded steel stairs take us
in steep angles and twists, and we must
contort in our down following

walls drip and ceilings drip and despite hundreds
of hands ahead the cold railings drip
new water as we grip and slide,
never relinquishing the rod
for our fears of stumbling—how gladsome the amber lights,
subdued!

silhouetted cave crickets hang on long legs, harmless
but fearsome in our spidery imaginations,
crickets that browse on leafy detritus and migrate
back to the passages to drop kind guano
for undetected little creatures having little
else for their feasting

so many scratchings scar the stone and the curtains
hang chipped from many who did not know and more who knew
but did not care: these defaced bulkheads
reveal the bulk and bent of humankind—I exhale:

do not touch the walls:
do not touch the curtains:
do not touch the crickets:
they are perfect…

we happen to accompany a choir of forty
tied and bonneted Mennonite youth who gather and take their breath
and fill the high twisting chambers
with eight-part echoes and images of a child
in Bethlehem
and notes that settle on the soul:
no one speaks

outside,
a sycamore lunges
into the gray-cloud sky,
her ancient girth steadfast, the slender of old giants,
her pale smooth arms reaching and reaching,
always reaching

 

spidery cave cricket

with little Lila Jean

 

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.

Angles of Sun and Shadow Showed the Forest Butterfly

The Red-spotted Purple is my favorite butterfly.  I have seen her only once.  As a youth in New Jersey, I roamed the fields and woods hunting butterflies and moths.  I counted over 200 species in my collection.  I regret those killing days.  Beauty is most beautiful when alive.  The beauty of butterflies, the beauty I was trying to capture and make a part of my soul, inspires me still and always.  I found the Red-spotted Purple by knowing the position of the sun, seeing the butterfly’s shadow, then knowing just where to look in the canopy.  Knowing where to look is the key to so many things.

Angles of Sun and Shadow Showed the Forest Butterfly

Shadows have wings,
sometimes—
did you know? They flit

through green canopies, they race
over forest floors. I can find
their masters by discerning

the relative position of the Sun.
That one—see there—
I have found her

only once, the prettiest
of them all, I say,
all melding swirls and spots

of royal and rust, the rarest,
also, for my having found her
only once

in so many woodland ramblings,
or perhaps she spites
ubiquity with stealth. To me

she is a rare beauty, spied
by no mere chance, but by calculating
from the relative position of the Sun.

First image by skeeze from Pixabay.   Second image by Peggy Dyar 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.

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.

A Mother Suckles her Fawn

Laboring uphill on my mountain bike on Settlement Canyon’s Left-hand Fork trail, I rounded a corner to encounter a mother mule deer suckling her fawn.  I quickly stopped, not wanting to frighten them, and gazed and the sight, both wild and tender.  She, for her part, stood taut, ready to bound away.  I spoke quietly, apologizing for startling them, assuring them of my peaceful intentions, and thanking them for their gift.  Mother was sleek and graceful and beautiful.  Baby was adorable, white-spotted, and oblivious of me for her mother’s milk.  After long moments, the doe turned her head and marched up the steep hill, her fawn following.  Enjoy the poem that has come a year later.

A Mother Suckles Her Fawn

    In speckled shade on a steep
hillside with a trickle and a trail
below, a mule deer doe, her spotted fawn

    punching feebly
her belly, drawing warm draughts,
my sweating and puffing are incongruous:

    I have stepped upon holy ground
with soiled sandals, entered
the covenant tabernacle unwashed,

    holy garments laid aside, so,
I stop and watch and speak
gentle affirmations of beauty and peace,

    harmlessness, though
the mother stands firm and taut, head
turned attentively toward me,

    an intruder, her great ears
erect, black stone eyes watching
in turn, ready…

 

(Image by Sr. Maria-Magdalena R. from Pixabay.)

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

Dad and Me (ca 1969)

At dusk at the abandoned Dallenbachs quarry turned deep lake in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Dad and I turned our attention from the bluegills to the bullfrogs.  This was a new experience for me, and I was wide-eyed and expectant.  Enormous frogs croaked, a loud, deep, rumbling song.  Spying a bullfrog, Dad pounced just at the frog jumped under his shoe.  Dad felt so upset about hurting the frog.  I didn’t know what to do or feel.  I simply stood quietly, then followed, quietly, to the car.  Fifty years later, the memory has reappeared and found its way into this new poem.

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

From reedy black bank-water emanated the rumbling
thrum that I knew, at four,
came from big bullfrogs. Even the bluegills

eluded our hooks, so we skulked the flank
because we could and because we were serious and excited
and on the hunt. I followed his point to two

gray spheres, an iceberg of frog flesh, its ears
metallic yellow discs just below. Two things
happened then, a concomitance in four

dimensions, the giant frog launching
a great leap, the big man’s
wet sneaker falling hard on the frog

sitting dazed, pink tongue bulging, while dad cussed
a grimace, I watched
and I listened and I knew both were

hurt, the soft body and the gentle mind,
and I did not move or speak
and I did not know what to feel

and I did not know how to help the bullfrog or
the father, hearing not a gravelly croak
on the long lake shore.

 

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Sunflowers

Inching along on the interstate, traffic backed up for miles and miles, I drove so slowly that I could observe up close the scraggly sunflowers bending in the breeze.  They were totally unaware of the total lack of merit of their surroundings, in the barren borrow pit between asphalt lanes.  They simply shone, delighted to be.

SUNFLOWERS

Sunflowers
on scraggly stalks
bob and weave
in the wind
in the brown grass borrow pit
heedless of the ugliness
joyous in any event

Intention

Slowing the body and quieting the mind are necessary prerequisites to writing poetry.  Hopefully today’s sky, under piney shade, assisted my ponderings on life and intention.

INTENTION

blue sky hovers vast and empty
but for still branches needling up their green-
magpies quickly caw their way across-
searching vultures float high and small,
never a wing beat, circling their descent-
purple mint blossoms bring bees-
red dragonflies, clasped
head to tail and tail to thorax,
flit over swampy grass,
awkward, but able,
finding just the right patch
to perpetuate.

Wisdom Sits in Places

In the book Wisdom Sits in Places (1996), ethnographer Keith Basso explores the Western Apache tradition, in Cibeque  Arizona, of bestowing place names, names that carry with them through centuries of generations the appearance and story of a place.  The mention of an Apache place name points to not just a geographical location, but conjures the deeply rooted experience, culture, morality, and sacred tradition of the tribe.  Walking in the canyon tonight, I began to compose names for my memorable experiences in nature, many sacred, some comical, all personal.*  How would you name the special places in your life story?  Leave a comment.

WISDOM SITS IN PLACES

Tanager sings greetings

Merlin swoops with bloody prey

Skinless trees spiral high

Splintered rock slants

Spotted fawn suckles

Fritillary flits on blue thistle

Yellow swallowtails suck salt

Glacier lilies smile

Trail through tunneled trees

Turkeys befoul white snow

Tarantula crosses

Pointed rock breaks ribs

Straight stick aids my travels

Springs whisper like ancestors

Grandfather red-tail rests here always

*I do not propose that my place naming follows the Apache tradition, only that my place naming is inspired by the Apache tradition.

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Flash Flood

Flash floods are among the most thrilling and dangerous experiences in nature.  They appear suddenly.  Their power destroys, then dissipates.  Ruin lies in their wake.  Some of life’s experiences ravage and leave us twisted and torn, as if a flash flood poured through us.  We may feel broken.  We nurse real wounds.  Remember that wounds can heal, if we let them.  Remember that the sun always shines after the rains, the wildflowers bloom beautifully, and the birds sing again.

FLASH FLOOD

rain pounces and stings
thunder bellows
angry
the cold and the wet and the clang
tempt my fears
of cold and wet and clang

sudden rivers choke
the gorge
a momentary roaring rage
soon spent

small birds sing
tentative song
under new sun

 

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Flow

It would be both cliche and passe to suggest that life is like a river: flowing.  But I found myself thinking just this as I sat on the bank of the Provo River as it rushed by, the water high from mountain snow-melt in summer.  Life . . . just . . . flows.  Every aspect of the river’s course deepens the metaphor, and I could not help writing this poem.  I hope you don’t mind my retelling of this ancient idea.

FLOW

the river flows
in deep green channels
in trickling shallows
over glacier-born boulders,
eddies swirl lolling bubbles
cutthroat flit and spawn
willows cling to ragged banks
lodgepoles look over:
the river flows and flows
from mountain snows
to unfathomable seas:
the river flows

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Forest Boardwalk

Exploring High Uinta mountain lakes and trails is a favorite family pastime.  While the children fish and kayak, I enjoy walking around the lake.  Teapot Lake is just my size: not so big I feel it might swallow me up, but small and friendly and pretty, and more than a puddle.  I walk around its banks in 20 minutes, despite the north shore trail still being snow-bound in July.  Hundreds of frogs croak in swampy bogs.  An old boardwalk guides directs the trail across snow melt draining into the lake.  Tiny white flowers proliferate.

FOREST BOARDWALK

the boardwalk beckons
a sign of humanity
in my wilderness of fears
easing my way
on the swampy trail
lily pad pools flanking
yellow stars in the green
invisible frogs creaking
a hundred rust-hinged doors
and always the wind
across the lake

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Walk in the Woods

At the start of a seven-mile walk on the Dark Trail in Settlement Canyon, a flash of bright color and a chirp caught my attention.  In the branches not three six from me perched a gorgeous Western Tanager, red head, yellow breast.  It inclined its eye to me, and twittered a greeting, then leapt away.  How cheerful the encounter left me; how uplifted and inspired.  (I took this photo of a Western Tanager in 2007.)

WALK IN THE WOODS

Tanager of the West
yellow breast beaming
scarlet head brilliant under blue sky and sun
how kind of you to incline
to chirp to me
and warble.

Every Tanager and Towhee and Flicker,
I find,
every Fritillary and Mourning Cloak and Blue,
I see,
every walk in the woods:
instructs and enlightens,
uplifts and improves.

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Looking Up

The night’s newly-fallen snow coaxed me into the canyon for a solitary hike.  As I trudged along, often sinking up to my knees, I tried to focus upward on the beauty around me.  But I have noticed how often I focus downward on the trail and miss seeing that beauty.  This poem is about perspective, about looking up to see and to have our soul enriched and uplifted.

LOOKING UP

Hiking
this precarious trail
I am guilty
of looking always down
at the rocks and roots
that would send me sprawling,
tumbling, bleeding

I am missing it:
streaks of Tanager and Goldfinch
leaves green upon green
Oregon grape blossoms: yellow cream
orange-lichened branches arching over
blue sky above

this Black-capped Chickadee
sings to me
demanding I stop
insisting I look up
to see her
to see the world
and I invite her to come into me
and to fly around freely in my soul

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Medicine

On my last several jaunts into the snowy canyon near my home, I have carefully selected bits of nature that to me were beautiful, emblematic, and expressive of the mystery of life.  As I stepped through deep snow, my pockets and my mind full, I seemed to connect with the lichen-covered trees, with the blue sky, with the generations.  Scattered words began to coalesce into coherent expression, and a new poem came into being.

MEDICINE

Juniper berries:
purple and cream:
diminutive.
Box Elder seed.
Mountain Maple whirligig.
Acorns from the Gambel Oak.
Aromatic Sagebrush sprig,
powdery purple green.
Gifts from the Mother:
Earth – Universe – Divine:
connecting
nourishing
invisibly:
Medicine:
tokens, artifacts, charms, talismans,
DNA,
bits of living stuff:
still and unpretentious
in the shallow of tight weave:
Indian basket.

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

On the Jordan

Utah’s Jordan River meanders northward for 50 miles from Utah Lake to the Great Sale Lake.  I have enjoyed kayaking sections of the river with family recently, finding it a beautiful, peaceful, contemplative place, though a challenge to paddle upstream in spots.  I have also enjoyed riding the riverside trail on my bicycle.  I wrote this poem after my third paddle during which I grieved over the recent death of my nephew.  The glassy, calm water, the Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher, the signs of fresh beaver chew, the tree branches arching over the water, all served to sooth my mind a bit.  Water has a way of doing that.  Enjoy.

ON THE JORDAN

down here
low
on the water
so much fades away
unseen
beyond the banks
no buildings
no cars
no traffic lights;
on the water ahead
reflections of sky and trees
behind, a gentle wake
and the river stretches forth
forever, it seems
around gentle bends
all overhung by drooping tree boughs
reaching over and down
for me to paddle
under and around

Kingfisher is belted
brawny in the neck
tall-crested
offended
at my nearness
swooping low
over his reflection
with a chiding cackle;
I chase him from tree to tree
downstream
to the edge of his territory
where he turns
to brave me and my boat
and fly
upstream
excreting as he passes

Heron is indeed
great and blue
perched on a dead-fall
as I round a curve
and hold my paddles still
floating toward
silent and slow;
she grows anxious
turning her big-beaked head
quickly left and right and left and right
on her tall and slender neck
and she leaps to fly
slow-beating wings out
their full six feet;
an irritated trill
downstream

Sparrow, white-crowned
hops about
unconcernedly
on a bed of green algae
and assorted human garbage
beer cans, basketballs
soda cups, sneakers
caught in the branches
of a fallen tree

the river flows slowly
and I can paddle
upstream and down
with even strokes of equal ease
dipping left and pulling back
dipping right and pulling back
reaching forward—and pulling back
water sprinkling

thoughts glide and eddy
opaque
like the brown water
reflecting
sky and trees
thoughts stuck
in the muddy muck
like the butt of a green Russian Olive limb
chewed and planted
last night
by a beaver

Roger 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 spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Mountain Song

On this fourth anniversary of beginning my Rabbit Lane blog of poetry, memoir, song, and craft, I have decided to post the very first poem I wrote, at about age 11, entitled “Mountain Song.”  In the intervening 43 years, I have written over 450 poems, contained in a massive binder on my bookshelf.  I look at that binder and think, “There, between the covers, is my soul.”  Writing poetry is not an intellectual exercise for me.  Certainly I use my best intellect to hone diction and line.  But for me each poem must arise from a compelling image, emotion, or memory.  Anything else is mere words on a page.  My rough, juvenile poem below expresses my love of nature.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you live looking for the hidden depths underpinning all we experience.

MOUNTAIN SONG

I am the mountain.
I stand majestic and tall.
I am the mountain.
I look over and take care of the valley.
I have a vest of trees,
of green piney trees.
I stand above all other mountains.
I stand majestic and tall.

Roger is the author of 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.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Empty Arbor

I worked for years to convince grape vines to grow up my arbor.  I imagined an arbor crisscrossed with verdant vines, heavy clusters of green and red grapes hanging down, and me sitting in a chair underneath, in grape-shade, pleasantly paralyzed by grape and wild flower and spice garden perfume.  But the vines never grew more than a few feet high before turning brown and dying.  Too much water?  Not enough iron or acid to compensate for the alkaline soil?  It no longer matters.  The grape arbor became my bird arbor, hosting many pretty species year-round.

EMPTY ARBOR

Bird feeders swing empty from nails pounded in the arbor.
After years of compost, fertilizer, water, and iron,
the vines still grow sickly and yellow, vines that grow no grapes.
I once dreamed of the arbor covered in a dense green,
with plump, hanging clusters of white and purple grapes.

Bird houses nailed to the arbor sit vacant,
the entrance holes too large or two small, too high or too low,
or too exposed to climbing cats,
vacant but for teaming yellow jackets that relish dark nooks.

The finches prefer the spiny blue spruce nearby.
Who knows where the sparrows and blackbirds live?
But they visit by the hundred, chirping and chasing, cracking at shells.

I must fill the swinging feeders
for the little birds that descend to my empty arbor.

Roger is the author of 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.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Birdsong Scratchers

My son Caleb loves to wood carve.  And paint.  And draw.  Creations of all kinds.  Caleb carved these charming bird-beak back scratchers out of tough Russian Olive wood collected near Rabbit Lane.  He has created an Etsy account where you can see each of these awesome artistic bird-beak-scratchers highlighted individually.  Pay a visit; take a look.  Way to go Caleb!

(Roger is the author of 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.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.)

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.

Fall

Fall’s Maple leaves are so beautiful in Settlement Canyon, I cannot resist sharing one of my Fall poems and some photographs of my favorite local haunt.

 

 

 

 

FALL

Fall has become
in my advancing years
a sweet season
sending forth
a settling sense
of things slowing down
preparing to rest
under white blankets
that warm and moisten
against year’s end.
Nights are cool
and days are sunny and cool.
Rows of dry corn
sheaves rasp each other
in the evening air.
Geese wave
a noisy farewell
overhead on their way away.
Greens melt
to candy yellows and reds
smelling earthy sweet
drifting down to become
the richness in the soil
where sleeping segos and tapertips
wait for Spring.

See My Wings

On my recent cycling and hiking forays into the local canyons, I have been graced with the presence of hundreds of gorgeous, enormous Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.  Such amazing creatures!  Utterly vulnerable, yet mighty and magnificent in their beauty and flight.  I reached into the memory of my butterfly collecting days (God forgive me) and my first experience of seeing a butterfly wing under a microscope.  That these stunning creatures can fly on flimsy wings astonishes me.  They embody such a rare combination: beauty and strength and humility.  With no worry for their future, with no thought of the impossibility of them against the world, they fly and fly, in spite of the skeptic.  This poem grasps at the metaphor of a butterfly’s flight to contemplate the concepts of beauty, introspection, the flight of the human soul, and the finding of hope, faith, and trust in this life.  I hope you enjoy it.

SEE MY WINGS

Look closely
at my wings,
carefully,
do not touch,
scrutinize
up close
with the microscope of your brain
and see,
see scale upon scale
in row upon row,
the most exquisite tapestry
known:
orange and blue
spots and whorls
blending
into one another;
yellow and black
fields and stripes,
veined,
coursing
under Sun’s heat
and tiny flutterings
that flash beauty unabashed and unaware,
that lift on wing
into apparent invisibility
of air and sky,
of breath and life,
of trust
implausible and true.

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.

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

Arco-Iris

On a recent evening, the image of a piece of thick chalk popped into my mind, perhaps from an old photo of my daughter’s driveway chalk drawings, perhaps from an web ad for a sidewalk chalk contest.  I decided to see what I could make of it.  The Portuguese word “arco-iris” is one of my favorites, meaning “rainbow.”  For this poem, I imagined my daughter making long, curving sweeps with her pastel chalks, to make a rainbow.  I hope you enjoy it.

ARCO-ÍRIS

make me an arco-íris
a pretty one
take this piece of chalk
here: scrape a long arc
on rough-brushed concrete
a yellow arc
a nice, thick arc
the chalk on its side
take this piece of chalk
here: grind out the green
the blue, nice long injured
arcs
now here the pink, and red
put the purple above
or beneath, either way
just make me an arc
an arc
before
rain


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.

Skyward

In our struggles to get it all done, to get ahead in the world, do we stop often enough to observe nature’s beauty, to smell gorgeous blooms, to listen to bird song, and to feel the warmth of the sun on our upturned face?  This poem is about slowing down and noticing the miracles of nature all around us.

SKYWARD

Do not look directly
at the Sun; instead,
look upon all
the Sun touches;
see the tall trees
wave in the wind;
draw in the aromas:
the many-petalled rose,
pink peonies,
bunches of lilac blooms;
tingle in the ice-melt
bouncing over boulders,
brushing over moss;
sink your toes
into the sandy surf,
white sails and gulls
highlighting the horizon;
contemplate the warmth
across eight billion miles
on your skin,
the glow through
closed lids turned
skyward.

Dream of Spring

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There is nothing like shivering during months of Winter to make one dream of Spring.
Still, Winter can be sublimely beautiful, as my hike in Settlement Canyon proved.

Dream of Spring

Winter, Winter,
Chatters my teeth.
Winter, Winter,
Freezes my bones.
The roosters still crow;
The horses still neigh;
The cows still low.
But I bundle up and tuck away and shiver,
And dream of Spring.

Through Winter’s Window

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Working at my home office today while convalescing after foot surgery, a little flock of finches and sparrows landed in the crabapple tree outside my window and began to eat the tiny pea-sized fruits.  A living poem, I thought.  Having promised myself never to deny, or even to delay, inspiration, I wrote the poem that came: Through Winter’s Window.  I hope you find it a spot of warmth on this freezing Winter day.

THROUGH WINTER’S WINDOW

fidgety finches, purple bibbed,
nibble nervously on
purple crabapple fruits,
not whole berries,
but tiny snatches and pecks,
wiping beaks on branches
when the sticky pulp sticks

watching from within walls, me,
through gridded, two-paned glass,
through slanted shutters
and dark nylon micro screen;
still I see the fidgety finches,
joined, now, by sparrows
brown on brown

round, scarlet leaves of fall
have fallen; only the marble
fruits hang on
though winds gust, throwing snow,
and winter sun appears
a weak old bulb
on the world’s periphery

but the red-throated finches
and striped sparrows land in
a happy-dozen flock to nibble and talk,
to swipe and nibble and talk,
seeing not nor caring
that I watch
unhearing from inside

To the Mountain

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This life’s journey can seem hard.  No–it IS hard!  In some ways life is meant to be hard (but not cruel or brutal) because it is through struggle and effort that we learn and grow, that we become better selves.  So often I have resisted the upward climb in my life.  My legs ache.  My lungs burn.  I feel fatigued.  I just want to rest.  And it’s ok to rest when needed, so long as we keep an upward direction.  Learning new skills.  Solving tough problems.  Choosing to forgive. These expand our minds and hearts.  These ennoble and redeem.  So, focus on that beautiful mountain top, and climb!

TO THE MOUNTAIN

The wind blows cold upon this mountain:
you reach out frigid fingers
to winch me up, to the summit,
but I refuse and split my stupid shin
on an unforgiving stumbling stone.

The air rests thin upon this mountain:
I suck and gasp with each heavy foot fall,
glancing away from your easy smile;
shin blood congeals;
the mucous freezes in my nose.

A smell sits rank upon this mountain,
from so many pissing travelers
and their perennial flotsam of tumbling toilet paper,
jagged aluminum cans, jolly rancher wrappers,
plastic bottles that will last a millennium.

Blue lupine, firecracker penstemon, Indian paintbrush, golden columbine, fireweed, asters,
daisies, monkeyflower, beard tongue, shooting star:
you redeem this mountain,
remind and rebuke;
you sing the beautiful song
to the beat of sheep hoofs
and the chirps of pikas and marmots.
You sing the beautiful song.

(Photo of Mt. Timponogos, Utah, in July, by the author.)

Whispers from Tinker Creek

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My son, Brian, gave me a book entitled, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, for my birthday. Published in 1974, the book won the esteemed Pulitzer prize.  In its pages, Ms. Dillard goes traipsing through her Virginia woods, observing sky, trees, insects, birds, and Tinker Creek.  The smallest observations vault her into grand philosophical explorations about the nature of life.  I am impressed and moved at her intellectual and transcendental depth.  I am enjoying the book! I have heard that a good way to become a better writer is to read great writers.  During a quiet moment, I aspired to write a poem inspired by Ms. Dillard’s writing.  I present to you, “Whispers from Tinker Creek.”

WHISPERS FROM TINKER CREEK

I hang on every word,
dew on a leaf point,
sliding slowly to drop
toward mingling mud,
the view blue and green,
blinding
but for shadow.

I cling to the twig tip
with suction feet,
searching, in space,
through tattered clouds,
for how to inch on.

The breeze whispers
words I cannot comprehend,
almost audible,
puffs of cottonwood,
floating dandelions.

The sun spares me
sudden death to bedazzle
with sparkling dust,
shattered crystals hovering
purposefully.

An Evening

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I contemplate. Everything. I don’t mean to; I just do. I notice my abundance and my scarcity. I think about my gifts and talents, and worry about my abyssal weaknesses. I ponder my joy and my sadness, my human connections and my loneliness. I try not to allow meditation to slip into obsession, or depression. And my observations are not just about me. I thrill at the beauties of nature. The world, and life, are simply filled with mystery and unfathomableness and beauty and suffering that beg to be studied, to be understood. So I contemplate. This poem contemplates a quiet evening alone.

AN EVENING

A fish fillet simmers
in basil and salted lemon juice.
The baked potato steams
with butter and sour cream gobs.
Three cobs of corn.
Absence of conversation.

Fingers fumble with chords,
picking awkward patterns.
Crooning “Blackbird.”
Absence of applause.

On the big bed,
looking at paintings
on the walls.

Mr. Robin

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Riding my bicycle home from work the other day I noticed an American Robin standing proud and tall in the midst of deluging lawn sprinklers. He knew where to be to pluck juicy earthworms from the saturated turf. And he knew how to keep cool in the 100-degree heat. What caught my attention most was his bearing of obvious satisfaction, his beak lifted slightly, contemplating his idyllic surroundings. I couldn’t help putting pen to paper.

MR. ROBIN

Mr. Robin
stands tall
beak above the plane
eyes gleaming
in thick lawn sprinkler
mist, knowing
he is in the right place at the right time

Life Ethic

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As a boy I collected butterflies. I hunted them, killed them, and mounted them in an impressive display case. I knew their names, their habitats, their habits. Over 100 species. Unhappily, worms destroyed my entire collection. I see now that my youthful intention had been to capture the butterflies’ beautiful essence. I have outgrown my need to capture butterflies. I am content to view them alive and free, awed by their living beauty.

Working in the yard one day I watched my son Brian, then 9 (now 26), chasing a butterfly with a homemade pillowcase net. “I caught it!” he exclaimed. I held my breath as he peered into the net to examine his prize. He soon released the butterfly to live another day. A smile of wonder lingered on his face. I breathed a relieved sigh to see him possess the maturity I had lacked at his age. I had taught him to love beauty. And he had learned. Learned to love beauty without needing to clutch at it, control it, kill it, and mount it on a board, only to lose it in the process. He had learned a Life Ethic. Here is the poem I wrote about that occasion.  (Happy birthday Brian.)

LIFE ETHIC

“I caught it! I caught it!” cried the boy
over my weed-whacker whir
after waving his pole-clamped pillowcase
across the sky.
Two wide eyes and a victory smile
raced to the porch where
two trembling hands
coaxed the delicate creature
through the screened bug-box door.
A bundle of awe,
the boy sat still and stared
at this astonishing bringing-together
of color and form,
at this life.
Father watched from the garden rows,
remembering his own youth’s hunt
for small, helpless prey,
whose fate was to rot
with a pin through the thorax,
and a tag with a name and a date.
But the magical fluttering rainbows had faded
fast behind their showcase.
“Nice catch, son,” father admired
with a pat and a ruffle.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Well, I think I’ll watch him for a while, and
then I’ll let him go.”
Good boy, father sighed, as
a boy released his heart’s hold and
a captive rainbow again
graced the sky.

(I took the above photo of a Milbert’s Tortoise Shell in 2007 on the banks of Duck Lake in the high Uinta Mountains of Utah.)

Songbird

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Photo by Liddy Mills

My friend Elizabeth found an injured bird yesterday, a European Starling, and took it in.  Many people think of Starlings as junk birds.  I know of farmers who pay boys to kill as many as they can.  But Elizabeth took it in.  She fed it, watered it, and wrapped it in cloth.  Elizabeth named it Songbird.  She sang to Songbird, and, as she sang, Songbird fluffed its feathers and watched her.  She placed Songbird on a bed of straw, but the bird kept trying to come to her as she sang. “I held him as he took his last breath,” Elizabeth sadly recounted.  “I hope he understood that some of us humans care.”  She buried Songbird in the yard today, on the Sabbath.  “Songbird deserved a burial,” she said.  Elizabeth’s caring heart touched mine, and I wrote this poem, near midnight.

SONGBIRD

I crashed
and lay crumpled
in your townhouse yard.

You scooped me up
and sang to me
a song.

“Hello Songbird.”

You cradled me in a cloth
and stroked my feathered head.

Sing to me
          a song.

You watered me
and laid me in a bed of straw.

Sing to me
          a song.

You kept the cats
away.

Sing to me
          a song.

You cried when I died,
and you buried me
in your townhouse yard.

You sang to me
a song.

For another story about trying to save an injured bird, see Chapter 37: Of Caterpillars and Birds at my blog page Rabbit Lane: Memoir.

Snow

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A snowy Rabbit Lane

In arid Utah we are grateful for snows that persist through March, April, and sometimes even into May.  I remember a May 1993 snowstorm that dropped a full three feet of new snow on the streets and yards of Salt Lake City, the year after I returned from being a Fulbright Scholar in Portugal to live with my grandmother, Dora.  These Spring snows add high-mountain snow pack that continues to slowly percolate thousands of feet through fractured bedrock, into valley aluvia, recharging the aquifers that allow us to turn the desert into a rose.  So, even though I post this poem at the end of March, it is still snow season in Utah.  I hope you enjoy the poem.

SNOW

Sky lets down her snow
in slow and heavy flakes
all the long day
as if the world, everywhere,
has never known but snow:
slow and easy, flakes
perching undetected
in my thinning hair,
granting shy moist cool
kisses on the bulb
of my nose, on my soft
sagging cheeks, crystals resting
on lashes looking up
to a distant gentle font.
Wind does not dare to blow.

A Visit to Saltair

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In August 2015 I took Hannah (9) to the shore of the Great Salt Lake.  We stepped onto the dry salt-crusted sand, rough and hard on our bare feet.  The water seemed miles away.  As we walked toward the enormous salt water lake, the fine sand became progressively more moist and soft, yielding to our feet with small wet depressions.  A calm day, the water reflected the sky.  Coming to the edge of the glistening water, we ventured in, walking a hundred yards out but barely wading up to our ankles.  Walking a path parallel to us was a tall, slender woman in a pastel red dress.  As Hannah and I played in the sand and water, my mind wandered momentarily into imagination about the beautiful woman.  This poem finds its genesis in the moments before catching myself in my fantasy and pulling myself back to reality.  Having come to my senses, I still felt a twinge of longing after she had gone.

A VISIT TO SALTAIR

You stepped out,
ahead of me,
onto the sand,
hard and salt-crusted,
a pastel-red floral dress
draped from bare shoulders
to delicate ankles,
the water still half-a-mile
distant, it seemed,
and I ventured, nearby.

You delighted
in the softening sand,
scrunching your toes and turning
slow pirouettes in the lake
breeze, uninhibited.
You lifted the hem above
your knees to wade and frolic
in water, shallow still
for a hundred yards or more,
lapping at your legs.

A low sand bar separated us.

“Did you know
the Great Salt Lake
is 25% salt?  The oceans
are only 5%.  Nothing lives
in this lake.  Except
tiny brine shrimp, trillions of them,
harmless little creatures
swimming with frilled gills,
some orange, some yellow, some rusty red.
See? They’re all around us.”
I wanted to say all this,
and more.

As you turned back
toward land, my heart filled
with shameless longing.
I wanted to splash
my clumsy feet in the water
with your long slender feet,
hold your salt-white hand,
listen to you talk about your dreams
for the future, release
your pastel red dress,
make gentle love on the sand—
if you wanted me—
and come back and back to this place,
forever.

But you are half the distance
to the parking lot,
looking small, smaller,
pastel red fading,
and while the glow yet lingers,
you are too soon
nowhere.

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The name Saltair references a lakeside resort that reached its heyday in the early 20th century.  My grandmother Dora told me of taking the train to Saltair with her friends to enjoy a day in the buoyant water.  Fire ravaged the resort, and only one meager building remains to remind of the resort’s former glory.  Few visit anymore, except those who want to walk out onto the salty sand to wade into the shallow water.

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Fly

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I watched a battered Tiger Swallowtail fly awkwardly from flower to flower, clinging precariously from its remaining feet, its tails cracked and broken.  How sad, I thought, that this usually stunning butterfly has lost its beauty.  Only later did it occur to me that the swallowtail had lost nothing of real beauty.  It lived on, though battered by storms, by would-be predators.  What it had lost in glamour it had gained in strength and nobility.  And it still commanded the air.  It still indulged in the sweetness of life.  This poem celebrates the swallowtail.

FLY

Today you limp
on air:
wings faded,
edges serrated,
tails broken off.
Still, flowers
beckon
you to push awkwardly on,
to cling with three barbed feet.
Uncurl your coil
to taste the sweetness
of the flowers
today.

In My Veins

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Sitting on the shore of Bear Lake watching my boy scout troop, including my own sons, swimming and canoeing, I grew contemplative about the nature of water and the currents of my life.  The boys laughed and squealed as they frolicked in the cold lake.  They were clearly enjoying scout camp at Bear Lake Aquatics Base.

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The scene caused me to remember my own scouting days canoeing down the rapids of the Delaware River, across the lakes of New York’s Adirondack mountains, and over placid colonial New Jersey canals fishing for catfish.  This poem began to take shape as I continued to watch the water and happy boys so clearly enjoying it.  Good for you, I thought.

The river of my life continues to flow, with strange twists and turns, and not a few eddies and submerged snags.  But I paddle on.

IN MY VEINS

This water does not seem to move,
rather sleeps contentedly,
still, glistening the yellow sun.
Trees on each bank reach
skyward and riverward,
into air and water.

This river slumbers except
where my canoe prow tickles
up a wake and green sides
send slow ripples
that lazily lap the banks.
I do no injury.

If I slow my canoe, if
I drop my paddle and stop,
leave no trace,
I see:
the boat still advances
in quiet current
past the bank-bound trees.
The river does not sleep,
I see:
it creeps forward
inexorably, taking me
from whence to where,
from then to what will be.

I am part of the river.
My childhood passed a stone
upstream, a green-speckled hegemon
lording from the bank,
aged with orange and black lichens.
The river’s mouth, yawning to the eternal
ocean, will swallow me some day, draw me
into swirl and flow forever.
Here, today, the river is
the liquid in my veins.

I seek neither headwaters nor sea:
they were and will be, and always are.
Here is where I am.
Kingfisher knows this,
watching me from arching bow.
Great Blue Heron knows this,
winging downstream
to a place where I am not
yet.  River knows this, too,
expiring in oceans even
while birthing from melting snows.

The river is always
awake, every part of it:
River knows.
Rock knows.
Tree knows.
Only,
I am slow to see.
Sky knows.
Earth knows.
Wind knows and whispers
to me across the water.
Only,
I am slow to hear.

Consecration

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Wandering and sand and rock trails of southern Utah’s desert gems, I have often wondered about the ancient peoples who made the inhospitable terrain their home, and have admired the dedicated labor that were required to survive.  Snow Canyon state park, near St. George Utah, and Valley of Fire state park in northern Nevada, are two of my favorite places. The beauty of each place–carved by wind, rain, sand, and flood–causes me to marvel at indigenous ingenuity, persistence, and stamina.  This poem imagines the efforts of one young American Indian woman preparing a meager meal for her family.  The meal is much more than food.  The meal is her life’s sacrifice.

CONSECRATION

Kernels of corn
on the metate:
yellow and red,
shriveled and dry,
hard, nearly,
as the grinding stones.
Fingers grasp the mano:
cracked skin and cracked nails
press and roll
to crack and crush
the corn, grind it
to meal, to be
mixed with water,
salt, and sage,
baked in small cakes
on searing rocks.

New corn kernels
on the metate
under the weighty stone.
Mix the meal again, with drops
of sweat, tears dripped
from her chin.
Stoke the coals.
Cook and consume
your consecration.

(Previously published in Panorama and Utah Sings, publications of the Utah State Poetry Society.)

This photograph shows my daughter Hannah, with her mother, in her pretend “Indian kitchen” in Valley of Fire state park.

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Hawks Nest

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Upon moving to our New Jersey home in 1971, my father spent a Saturday eradicating huge vines and stands of poison ivy from our trees and yard.  He wore gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt, but the poison ivy dust and oils pierced his clothing and infiltrated his lungs.  His reward for his effort was several days in the hospital with severe rashes and swelling.  I learned vicariously the power of poison ivy.

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I rarely encounter poison ivy in arid Utah.  But I discovered lush poison ivy growth in Negro Bill Canyon, named after William Granstaff, an African-American who settled near Moab, Utah in 1877.

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A 4.5-mile BLM trail follows a stream up the narrow canyon to Morning Glory Bridge, with a stunning 243-foot span.  The stream gurgles out from cracks in the sandstone cliff behind the bridge.

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This is a favorite hike of mine for trickling water, vividly-colored wildflowers, aromatic sage, and dense greenery set against towering patina-stained red rock cliffs, and eleven stream crossings.

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And poison ivy is everywhere.  The characteristic shining green in these Negro Bill Canyon photographs is yielding to the reds and yellows of fall.  Beautiful, to be sure, but don’t touch.

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As part of the 2013 National Boy Scout Jamboree, my troop of 36 boys gave a day of service in Hawks Nest state park, West Virginia.  We cleared and improved park trails under dense hardwood canopies and abundant poison ivy bushes, grape vines, and ripe-fruited raspberry and blackberry bushes.

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After being away from eastern forests for so long, I thrilled to be walking through the forest again, and was even glad to see the poison ivy, thus prompting this poem.  Can you guess why I described poison ivy as being faithful or a friend?  Leave a comment if you have an idea.

HAWKS NEST

Hello, poison ivy, my faithful friend.
I have missed your glistening green.
My respect is rooted in recollection.

Vines—wild grape—thick
as a strong man’s arm,
chuckle at gravity,
entwine in tulip poplar tops.

Red oak leaves
large as elephants ears
shade me.

Fall

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Fall.  It has come early.  I bask in cool breezes, comforting after Summer’s heat, but knowing, also, that Winter will too soon chase its way in.  This mountain between Middle Canyon and Pine Canyon in the Oquirrh range of the Rockies sports the yellow leaves of Quaking Aspen trees, the reds of Gambel Oaks, and the evergreen Junipers, Pines, and Spruces.  I snapped this picture from the roof of City Hall, knowing I might need forgiveness after failing to ask permission–I just couldn’t resist.  Note the white “T” plastered on the mountain, for Tooele (too-i’-la) high school.

FALL

Fall has become
in my advancing years
a sweet season
sending forth
a settling sense
of things slowing down
preparing to rest
under white blankets
that warm and moisten
against year’s end.
Nights are cool
and days are sunny and cool.
Rows of dry corn
sheaves rasp each other
in the evening air.
Geese wave
a noisy farewell
overhead on their way away.
Greens melt
to candy yellows and reds
smelling earthy sweet
drifting down to become
the richness in the soil
where sleeping segos and tapertips
wait for Spring.

Brown Oak Leaf

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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.)

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Woodcraft: Introduction

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Working with natural wood has always been a source of pleasure and camaraderie for my sons and me.  On hikes we often spy gnarled driftwood or twisted tree roots that would make beautiful lamps.  We decided to make a number of these lamps and sell them to fund our way to the 2013 and 2017 National Boy Scout Jamborees.  For those unfamiliar with the Jamboree, it involves ten days touring the historic sites of New York City, Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Mount Vernon, and Washington D.C., then ten days at a high adventure camp in the mountains of West Virginia.  About 40,000 scouts attended the 2013 Jamboree.  Here is a picture of our troop’s camp area.

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Pictured above are myself (one of four troop scoutmasters), my sons John and Caleb, and my nephews Thomas and Todd (four of 36 scouts in the troop), posed before a reconstructed winter quarters cabin at Valley Forge.

We hope to make Baker Brothers Lamps a successful going concern.  But in the meantime, we are learning skills and making memories together.  Each post on the Rabbit Lane: Woodcraft page will feature one lamp or other woodcraft project created by my sons and myself, pictured here on September 11, 2011, before attending Sandy City’s 10th anniversary commemoration of the World Trace Center attacks.

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Maple Leaf

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I sometimes walk the neighborhoods near city hall during the lunch hour, trying to calm my mind from the troubles of the office.  On one such walk I beheld, on the ground, a beautiful maple leaf in the process of transforming from Summer’s green to Fall’s crimson hues.  I regarded her as the quintessence of natural beauty, and could not resist both scooping her up and writing this poem.

MAPLE LEAF

A leaf,
a many-pointed Maple,
demanded
that I look down
and see her,
her splashes of swirling colors,
laying with feigned humility
on a bed of matted elms,
paper-bag-brown.
She lay unspeaking,
satisfied to be admired,
to not be drab,
satisfied that I was tempted
to stoop and handle her,
satisfied with my sighs.
I could not walk away
and not take her with me.

(I did not have a camera with me as I walked, but the maple leaf pictured above is an acceptable substitute, found during a walk in Ophir Canyon.)