Tag Archives: Hiking

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

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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.)

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.

Speak, Spirit

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Snow Canyon called to me.  I could not wait to finish my law classes in nearby St. George and head into the canyon for an evening hike.  I chose the Hidden Pinyon Trail, a popular trail over and through twisting redrock slots and boulders, past blooming prickly pear cactus, Mormon tea plants, black brush, and flowering yucca.  I felt lonely and disconnected in my relationships, wondering who I was and questioning about god and life.  Arriving at a ridge line 300 above the canyon floor, I sat cross-legged on a patina-stained ledge, raised my staff with both arms to heaven, and called upon the universe for answers.  This poem attempts to convey the experience that followed.  The photograph above is a Utah Agave plant with its bloom growing seven feet tall in Snow Canyon.

SPEAK SPIRIT

Great Spirit,
Father of earth and sky—
manifest Thyself unto me.

Spirit Son,
Child of earth and sky—
see my writing in the rock,
in the swirling veins of cemented sandstone,
in the lichens’ greens and grays.
Hear my voice in the warbles and trills of song birds,
in the lonely quail call.
Smell my wisdom in the breeze-born sage
after desert’s summer shower.
Taste my nature in the pure water
pooled in pocks etched in stone over a million years
by grinding wind and splintering ice.
Touch my mind as you touch with whisper touch
the stunning, delicate cactus bloom,
as you cause the fine red sand to sift through wondering fingers.
Feel my heart as you cry
and reach for the sky
at sunset.