I have often second-guessed my career as a lawyer, wondering if I would have been better suited as an ornithologist, a cosmologist, an English teacher, or a writer. It doesn’t matter anymore, really: I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years. And I will be the best municipal lawyer I can be until I retire, and happy to do it. Throughout my career, I have found opportunities to be both the intellectual and the romantic, the lawyer and the poet, the analyst and the naturalist. In my poem “Farmer” I explore the concept of being who we really are in the midst of circumstances that, we think, may not suit us but in which we find ourselves. And, maybe we are right where we need to be: learning, stretching, becoming.
looking back thirty years,
I would to have sidestepped
a torturous jurisprudence.
I would, rather, to have studied
the sturdy soil,
the art of growing things.
from my desk,
I till and I plant;
I nurture and hoe out the choking weeds,
looking to the harvest.
Resolutions are my cash crop,
statutes and prosecutions.
Policies and proclamations
yield forthcoming fruits.
The pen is my plough,
reams of paper
my fertile, furrowed fields,
poems my flower garden,
where butterflies condescend
The Stansbury mountain range is a succession of high peaks, some above 10,000 feet, each a lighter hue of gray proportionate to its distance. In the moments before sunrise, the clouds and sky form a sea of swirling scarlet, orange, red, and pink. The western face of the Oquirrh range once boasted thick pine forests. But over-harvesting, together with decades of settling particulate pollution from the now-defunct Anaconda smelter, denuded the mountain slopes of their forests. They now show mostly fault-fractured bedrock. With the smelter gone, the trees are slowly returning, starting from deep within the canyons and creeping back onto the slopes. Continue reading →
I could hear them as I approached the north end of Rabbit Lane. Ka-swishhh ka-swishhh ka-swishhh ka-swishhh–swika swika swika swika swika. With the blue sky above, the fields and pastures all around, and the butterflies and bees winging in warm air, the sound of the ground-line sprinklers was true music. A summer song.
Ground-line sprinklers in the green alfalfa hay
make such pretty music,
like the field song of crickets and katydids
on a hot, summer evening.
Cows’ tails swishing in the tall, dry grass,
and the breeze fluttering stiff poplar leaves,
add apropos percussion
to the sublimity and song.
Erda and Rabbit Lane lie in the low lands of the Tooele valley. Still, we are high enough to see the silvery ribbon of the Great Salt Lake lining the horizon. The northerly breeze often brings with it the smell of salt in the air as it brushes over the enormous lake, transporting me through the darkness to days of my youth spent beach combing and sailing near New Jersey’s Sandy Hook, looking across the bay to the iconic twin towers that exist now only in memory and in mourning, and in old photographs. Continue reading →
Ben was attempting to herd his cows from one field to another as I walked in his direction on Church Road. The process first involved opening the gate at the receiving field, then opening the gate at the sending field. In theory, Ben would then shoo the cows out of the sending field down the road and into the receiving field. At the open sending field gate, Ben’s wife and children lined themselves up across the street, arms outstretched, forming a barrier the cows were supposed to respect. The kine, however, had ideas of their own, and strolled indolently between Ben’s kin. Continue reading →
Farm fences flank me as I walk on Rabbit Lane two days before Christmas. Walking the length of the country road, I begin to contemplate the nature of fences. Fences keep the cattle in their pastures, while keeping pheasant poachers out. Fences remind me of the limitations I put on myself through fear and doubt. I think of social, legal, political, and relationship boundaries. I ponder that each cedar fence post used to be a juniper tree thriving in the Utah desert. I imagine lines of soldiers marching into battle in distant early-morning mists. Ultimately, we can choose to transcend many of our life’s fences, like the butterfly that simply flies over, as if the fences do not exist.
Grain-field fences march
away in a disciplined line,
cedar post after cedar post,
each tugging its barbs
taut as burning guns
at soldiers’ cheeks, marching
straight and away at an acute angle
to the way I would go,
hemming me in with wicked wire
points, urging me down, at the risk
of gash and scar, the direct
and dusty disciplined road,
while a Tiger Swallowtail
lazily wafts its easy way across
the fence to flutter above
the ripe wheat tops,
and a Western Kingbird
darts here and there,
erratic, up and down,
above all artificial lines, chasing
invisible insects overhead.
The country was not quiet, not like we all thought it would be. Cows mooed, horses neighed, chickens clucked, dogs barked and howled, cats fought, chasing each other around the house, pea cocks called mournfully, and roosters cock-a-doodle-dooed. I had always thought that roosters crowed at sunrise, waking the farmers for their morning chores. But I discovered that the roosters in Erda crow all night long. 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.
–Engage your mind or others will engage it for you.–
Cottonwood trees are the legacy of the departed farmer. Once mere twigs, they grew quickly to become giants of the valley landscape. The oldest Cottonwoods are slowly dying. Each Spring the emerging leaves draw in closer to the trunks, leaving more of the outstretched branches as bare as skeletons. More and more bark sloughs off, leaving the trunks to bleach in the Summer sun. Dead Cottonwood trees resemble the ruins of medieval cathedrals. The bare branches seem sculpted and shaped, like the flying buttresses that once supported a stone ceiling but that now lift up the ceiling of the sky. Continue reading →