Tag Archives: Hiking

Courage at Twilight: Paths to the Peak

The Indian Food Fair sounded fun: the food (coconut chicken shahi korma is my favorite), the pulsing weaving music, the dance and gold-threaded dress, the lilting languages I do not know.  I called Hannah to see if she might like to attend the fair with me.  But she would be summiting, she explained, Utah’s Little Matterhorn (also Pfeifferhorn) on the same day with her mother and three brothers.  Dad and I summitted this peak 25 years ago, thrilled to see moose munching on willows by the creek, exhilarated by the perfume of pine and fir on the cool mountain air, charmed by the tinkling rivulet, and finally reaching the boulder-strewn summit to be awed by the Salt Lake valley views.  I felt that familiar nostalgic pang of loss at no longer being part of the equation, the sting of not being invited, even though my damaged feet would not have allowed me to join for the neuromas and surgeries and scars.  I thought of them this morning, wondering where they were on the trail, if they had seen any moose, whether the air smelled of the pine and fir, if their thighs were burning beyond toleration, and hoping their boulder hopping on the fractured ridge line would be safe.  I thought of them looking out over the Salt Lake valley from 11,586 feet, looking down on Salt Lake City, on Liberty Park, on the Indian Food Fair, on me sitting on a park bench eating my tikka masala in the shade.  I thought again how it is my lot and my opportunity, both, to chart a new course, even if alone, to follow different paths to different peaks.  I had invited a new friend to meet me at the park to eat Indian food, and we walked, and we talked, and we swayed to rhythmic melodies, and we enjoyed sitting on our park bench and savoring our tandoor and basmati, and we glanced at each other and wondered at each other’s thoughts and at our futures, and I pondered how paths unexpectedly converge, and split, and find each other again, to wander off.

(Image above of the Little Matterhorn’s fractured boulder ridgeline and summit, from Wasatch Magazine, used under the Fair Use Doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: Temple Quarry Trail

We were here!  At the Temple Quarry Trail, for a new adventure, the adventure of the rolling immobile, Mom and Dad guided by myself and my sister Sarah pushing their wheelchairs.  I discovered the short asphalt trail when finding my hiking/biking trail which starts from the same trailhead.  Availing ourselves of the handicapped parking, and knowing the restroom was there just in case any of us needed it, we set off on the trail, Mom and Dad debuting their “new” used wheelchairs.  The trail was paved, but there was nothing flat about it, and I strained, my body slanted to 45 degrees, to muscle the chair and its occupant up the incline.  This was the place where a century and a half ago the newly-arrived Latter-day Saints chiseled by hand enormous granite blocks from the mountain as foundation stones for their new Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The men worked in pairs, one holding a pointed steel bar, the other striking it with a sledgehammer, the bar man turning the bar a quarter turn, and the sledger striking the bar again, and the turn, and the strike, slowly drilling a hole six inches into the rock.  I cannot help but wonder how many arm bones and hand bones and finger bones were shattered by errant blows.  After a line of holes had been “drilled,” the mason inserted steel wedges and hammered until the granite broke with a “crack” in a neat line.  We could see the wedge holes in the giant slab of rock before us, and we shook our heads in awe at how the rudimentary techniques and tools of the time nevertheless resulted in a gloriously beautiful and sacred structure, a monument to the Living God and a tribute to his humble stonemasons and carpenters and plasterers and painters and tinsmiths and goldsmiths.  We pushed on, the river cascading in our ears, the granite mountain soaring overhead, the trees closing in gently over the trail where we pushed our parents.  There were their childhood canyons and rivers, their playgrounds and adventure grounds, and now here they were at the ends of their lives able to enjoy again, though differently, the sounds and sights and smells, because of wheeled chairs we all wish they did not need but which make these nature walks possible and pleasurable and safe (presuming one always engages the wheel breaks when letting go of the handles, which as a novice wheelchair facilitator I was careful to do).  Then the darkening clouds opened and baptized us with a gentle warm summer shower, and we turned our faces upwards and embraced each raindrop.  The Salt Lake Temple was completed and dedicated in 1893, a full forty years after its commencement.  The temple foundations stones weighed dozens of tons each, and broke the wagons and exhausted the oxen and foundered the canal boats and finally came more easily when the railroad spur reach the quarry.  But these remarkable people built that stunning thing which we call The House of the Lord.  The Temple stands strong and tall on its old granite foundation stones, not granite at all, actually, but quartz monzonite, a pretty white with black specks.  “White granite” they called it, and I am happy to call it granite, too.  We all thought we should roll the Temple Quarry Trail often, to get out of the house, to get into nature, to see the canyon as the seasons change and the gambel oaks and mountain maples and boxelders and wild cherries lose their leaves and the stream slows and freezes and the granite mountain stands as strong and as tall as ever.

In Little Cottonwood Canyon on the Temple Quarry Trail.

 

(Granite stonemason photo from Getty Images, used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)

 

Salt Lake Temple

(Salt Lake Temple photo from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: Nature’s Serendipity

The mountain bike trail proved too challenging for me: too steep and too rocky for too long. I stopped pedaling a dozen times to rest and drink and slow my racing heart.  Walking the steepest stretches, I finally reached the top of the trail, marked by a bridge over the river, set Dad’s red vintage Specialized against a tree, and stepped down the fractured granite to the riverside, where I knelt and cupped icy water onto my feverish head.  How relieving that cold water felt, and I calmed and relaxed.  The river cascaded violently and deafeningly down and past, lurching between thousands of giant rough angular granite boulders.  My peripheral vision detected a short-tailed gray bird land on a mid-river rock downstream, bobbing on her backward knees, lifting her very-short tail with each bow.  She fluttered from boulder to boulder, thrusting her black beak into the current to pick nymphs and rollers off rocks, working her way toward me, at times even immersing and walking along the river bottom to find insect morsels.  I sat perfectly still and she paid me no heed as she came to within six feet, preening her delicate gray plumage before me in a spot of full sun, then hopped back into the shadows to work her way upstream and around a bend fifty feet off.  What an encounter!  Forty years ago, Dad and I left the Sawtooth Mountain trail to follow the stream, and saw a little gray bird with a short tail hopping and bobbing along a log fallen across the stream.  The bird grasped the bark with its long feat and stepped around the circumference of the log from dry air to upside-down and under water, emerging dry and pretty on the other circumference side.  Dad and I were gob smacked.  A Robin-like bird that walks and hunts underwater in a swift mountain stream?  We had never heard of such a bird.  But our field guide introduced us to the American Dipper, and, though a colorless non-descript little bird, she has become one of our favorites.  Memories of our first Dipper and the stream and the forest and the mountains and the moose and trout and bear and beaver and the wild blueberries flooded back to Dad’s perfect recollection as I described my new and fortuitous encounter.  I discovered as a boy that Nature comes to me when I am still.  I do not call her or pursue her.  I study and I watch and I wait, in good places and at right times, and Nature’s path veers toward mine to grace me with intimate unearned wildlife experiences.  My children know this, and we both marvel at Nature’s magical providence.  The butterflies come, and I know their names and their habits, and I talk to them: “Hello Beautiful,” I whisper to the Tiger Swallowtail or the Red-spotted Purple.  “You look lovely and strong today.”  The deer come, and the beaver, the Red Slider turtle and the Belted Kingfisher and Clark’s Grebe and Black-crowned Night Heron.  “Hello pretty Mama,” I once whispered to a Mule Deer doe suckling her spotted fawn, the mother taut with fear, ready to pronk away, and I reassure her, “Don’t worry, little Mama, I will not hurt you or your magical spotted fawn.  You need not fear me.  I will wait right here until you are ready for me to pass.”

(Photo above from eBird.org, used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)

Pictured below: photos of Little Cottonwood trail, creek, and canyon.  The trailhead is a ten-minute drive from Mom’s and Dad’s house.

 

Courage at Twilight: Remember-Me’s

“I don’t care,” Mom reacted as Dad explained his concern.  In my experience, peoples’ declarations of “I don’t care!” betray a deep caring about the very things they disavow caring for.  I do it myself, though each time I utter the phrase, I pause to examine why I care so much, and I find that instead of apathetic, I am feeling threatened, or stressed, or vulnerable, and wish I did not have to care so much.  Dad said “I don’t care” when the resident mule deer nibbled all the tiger lily blooms just before they opened—irresistible moist sweet morsels.  He loves to see the doe and her fawns saunter across the back lawn, and delights when they bed down under the low pine boughs.  Mom and Dad and their visiting children and grandchildren never tire of calling out, “Look!  Deer!” at the sleek lithe wild pretty creatures glimpsed through the kitchen window.  I opened the plantation blinds Tuesday morning to see a miniature mule deer covered in creamy spots chewing contentedly on lilac leaves and felt, like Dad, that I did not care if the fawn consumed every flower in the garden.  So, while the neighbor shoos the deer out of his yard, we sit at the kitchen table and stare at them with wonder in our own yard.  Still, I shaved a whole bar of Irish Spring in and around the lily bushes in hopes the new blooms would be spared.  “I have watched them cross the road,” Dad explained.  “They stand at the curb and look left, then right, then cross when there are no cars.”  Hunger and cold push the mule deer out of the mountains that tower above our neighborhood, and once acclimatized they never leave. Those mountains called to us this week, so we drove to the Albion Basin at the very top of Little Cottonwood Canyon to see the wildflowers and to hike to Cecret Lake.  A winter avalanche filled the alpine lake with ice and rocks and mud, the brown piles of ice still melting in July.  We asked the forest ranger about the lake’s name, and he told us that while 19th-Century miners were hard-working and enterprising, they were not necessarily men of letters—they spelled phonetically, and Cecret sounded every bit as correct as Secret, so their Cecret name for the lake stuck.  The glacial basin nestling Cecret Lake is decorated with jagged rock escarpments, pine and fir forests, and wildflower meadows.  The many beautiful flower colors and shapes inspired us: exotic creamy columbine; blue beardtongue and larkspur; purple lupine; pink and red paintbrush; yellow glacier lilies; delicate sticky geraniums; white and pink and red firecracker penstemon; and tiny-petaled blue forget-me-not’s.  “I call them ‘remember-me’s’,” Hannah announced, to my delight, and I pondered how nice it is to be remembered, and wanted, and respected, and loved.  How nice it is when someone cares.

(Pictured above: field of Forget-Me-Not’s in the Albion Basin.)

(Pictured below: the Albion Basin, near Cecret Lake.)

Courage at Twilight: Just One-Half Hour

Comfort-eating has taken sinister hold of me.  I seem powerless to resist.  I conquered hunger a year ago, imposing discipline, and losing 40 pounds.  With 10 pounds still to go, I moved, and hunger pounced on me and conquered.  Fasting had been a key element to my success, not for the diminished calories but for learning not to be afraid of hunger.  And there is an element of religious spiritual practice, looking to the Divine to consecrate my fast to help me obtain personal spiritual objectives.  After shopping for the evening’s boeuf bourguignon—I had company coming—and approaching the end of my day’s fast, I determined to spend one-half hour walking in nature, in the Dell.  Stepping through the trail’s new snow, I felt lean, my belly taut and my mind exhilaratingly clear and controlled.  I had forgotten my walking stick, again, but found an old one leaning against a tree trunk, and helped myself.  I relished being alone in nature in the crisp air as occasional flakes fell.  My 15-minute turn-around timer sounded—the apricot brioche was done rising.  “Bike up!” announced a cheerful woman on an expensive mountain bike with enormously “fat” tires, perfect for riding in snow, sand, and mud.  She wore all the right gear, head to toe, for the weather, including goggles.  “Have fun!” I called after her.  A leash-less blue pit bull approached me, its owner explaining, “she’s gentle.”  Being a city attorney who sees dozens of dog-bite cases a year, I become irritated when owners do not leash their dogs, and I countered, “You may know she’s gentle, but no one else on this trail knows it.”  He muttered something about me knowing it now, and a little voice chided me for introducing darkness into the world and for failing to share light, to impart goodness, to lift another.  The voice continued the instruction: even when irritation might be justified, choose to be kind in spite of the justification.  Alright, I will, I promised, chastened.  I can’t fix it this time, but I will do better the next.  Immediately a huge black Labrador trotted toward me, his owner 50 yards behind.  Another leash-less dog! I whined to myself, but to the owner I gave a friendly “Good morning!”  The face that barely looked up at me was so sad and downtrodden and depressed—I was glad he had his dog-friend with him on a walk in the Dell in the snow, and I was glad I had not further darkened his day.  I set the walking stick against the tree trunk for the next forgetful hiker.  Climbing to the parking lot, two morbidly obese men with disheveled beards smoking cigarettes wearing greasy ball caps sauntered down the trail, obviously father and son, following their remote-control Hummers.  “That looks fun!” I called cheerfully.  “Good times,” Dad hissed past his cigarette.  And I could see that father and son, indeed, were creating a good time, together.  Half a day of cooking later, the boeuf bourguignon, stewed with red wine and beef stock, topped with braised shallots and sautéed mushrooms, triumphed, enjoyed by Mom and Dad, and by Solange and Ana, my two Brazilian friends, who thought the meal marvelous, and who listened with genuine interest as Dad and Mom told story after story about the family and Brazil.

A stand of Oregon Grape

Courage at Twilight: Slippery Saturday

I awoke at eight—early or late?—on a Saturday, with no obligation but to live. I cooked Dad’s favorite apple-cinnamon oatmeal, with cream, for our breakfast, sweetened respectively with sugar for Mom, Splenda for Dad, and stevia extract for me.  In the crock pot, I stirred the dry 15-bean soup mix, diced onion, minced garlic, ground chilis, leftover cubed ham, water, and the packet of smoke-and-ham flavored powder, and set it to simmering.  Hyrum turned 20 this week.  He is my sixth child, and dearly-beloved.  So, I started baking a cake for his Saturday evening birthday party.  And this was no hum-drum box-mix cake, but Mary Berry’s chocolate-orange mousse cake, and I hoped I could do the many-stepped recipe justice.  After finishing the cake and washing, it seemed, half the kitchen’s bowls and mixing utensils, I needed to get out of the kitchen, out of the house, and out of my head.  Nearby Bell Canyon beckoned.  The trail’s snow was trampled down and icy, and I had forgotten my aspen-wood staff.  As I slipped and tromped along, I began to ruminate, to puzzle over romance, over the panging hunger for romance, over the long absence from romance—I began to puzzle over love.  A puzzle.  Both uphill and downhill, the mountain trail presented many slippery slopes, and I stepped with care as I thought.  An attractive woman passed me, planting her steel-tipped poles in the ice.  She was smart to navigate the icy trail with poles.  I was not so smart.  I wanted to be there in the mountains, in the snow, in the crisp beauty—I was sincere and empty of guile—but I was un-smart in my own navigations.  Always a puzzle.  Hyrum and company, of course, loved the chocolate-orange mousse cake, and I was proud to have baked it.  I am proud of him, no longer a little boy, but a man, a man of the best sort, a chocolate-orange mousse cake sort of a man.

Bell Canyon Stream

 

Mary Berry’s Chocolate Orange Mousse Cake

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.

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.

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

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.