Friday, March 20, 2015

ONE PATH



In the shade, the ravishing late spring flowers,























tier upon tier of Chinese purple houses,
















interwoven with pink fairy lanterns, crowned




by umbels of evenly spaced Ithuriel's spears.




Where the embankment slopes steeply,
I climbed onto a rock by the rushing water.
I felt dizzy, leaning into poison oak. People
had ground acorns in a stone




near the confluence of those creeks.
I had never been there before, but I somehow knew



















a path would lead me to another rock with mortars
above me on the ridge. I found the path
a few feet away below the branches
of a huge oak. I don’t know if
























we can return to places and people we love,
but on that one path I was part










of tapestries forever changing,
the threads eternal, not bound by time.
A kaleidoscopic blue and pink
and purple, the penstemon flower








bloomed where the path met
with the other village site,
and I lost myself in the shade
near the pounding stone.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

GHOSTS IN THE FOOTHILLS

Pestles left on Pounding Stone




A quarter-century after I first snaked
through a secluded foothill valley, down
along a dying creek at the base
of the foothills, I found the village sites

of a people who had vanished over a century ago, 
some pounding stones only a few feet
from the road, one with pestles still on top
less than a hundred feet from the barbed wire fence,

the mortars blanketed by dry leaves and shielded 
by the drooping limb of a huge oak. The paths
that I once thought had been made by cattle led
into clearings where the earth appeared trampled,



House Pits (where huts once stood)
Near Pounding Stone

bare and dark and a little greasy in places,
pounding stones nearby, and I followed them all 
from Kings River to Dry Creek, a web connecting
ancient village sites across the foothills. Once, 

at dusk, a band of coyotes began howling
by the creek, close to my car. I waited, straining
to see a ghost, until the howls began to drift away
into the valley, but nothing manifested. Twenty-five

years ago, a boy drove here with his father,
and they imagined deer, antelope, elk gathering
by the creek, predators never far away, flocks 
of migrating birds and butterflies drifting through. 


Pestles, Sierra Nevada Foothills

Now, woodpeckers make granaries of rotting
fence posts.  Once, following a trail away 
from the creek, I spotted at eye level several rocks
on top of a large stone. I climbed a few feet

and found eleven pestles on a pounding stone,
as though just left the day before, one pestle
inside a mortar with a little grass growing around it.
Standing on a ridge, I gazed a long time


Pestles on Pounding Stone near Road

into the valley where in just over
one hundred years almost every trace of wildness
has been wiped out. I thought of an activist
who sued developers to preserve in trust

a few acres of farmland, what he called the last vestige
of nature in the Valley, no longer working as a subsitute
again after a city official complained 
about his organization to the school district; 


Pestles near Pounding Stone

of another activist fined over $100,000 for submitting
a "frivolous lawsuit" to stop urban sprawl on farmland; 
of my own organization brought down by a bogus lawsuit,
tantamount to legal extortion--forced to settle

because of court costs, a lawsuit I can't describe
without fear of being sued; of those threatened
or fired because of their activism. 
On that ridge, I was a ghost


House Pits near Pounding Stone

of the Gashowu, seeing not herds 
of antelope and deer and elk but a herd
of cattle in the floodplain, the new freeway
extension less than ten miles away,

the city lost in deepening smog, 
a long pestle jutting 
from a deep mortar at my feet, the woods
cold but still, a last howl far off in the distance. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

THE MAGIC OF NATURE

Pounding Stone on a High Ridge




The buckeye seeds have slipped out 
of their jackets and rest, smooth,
rock-hard, on wet oak and sycamore leaves.
One sprout in each seed prepares to pierce

through taut skin and claw its way
into humus. Newts plod
over moss and leaves, recoiling 
as we step near them. They blend

with wet leaves so well 
that we have to watch each step.
We stop at a mossy outcrop of rock 
and slide our fingers over slick


Mushrooms

red-bud branches, the fan-like leaves
plastering rock and soil. We swear 
the rocks--tolerant of roots, harboring
other creatures, sprouting star moss--

are as significant and mysterious
as ourselves.  In the distance, 
a black phoebe chirps, the steward 
of the confluence of the creeks. 

The people who once ground 
acorns on the flat rocks
by these creeks have vanished,
their descendants building 


Pestles on a Pounding Stone

casinos on nearby reservations.
We honor friends who, fighting
for wildness, have been threatened, 
blackballed, and ruined, and we slowly

build a fortress with these rocks, 
for a moment no longer trespassers, 
our chants protecting the solitude
of the heron, the granaries

of the woodpecker, the ranges
of the newt and bobcat and all the tribes
of trees and flowers, our magic 
gathered from wetness, moss, fallen leaves.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

VISION IN A DRIED UP RESERVOIR

Bottom of Reservoir



Descending the steep slope
on unstable stones
to the bottom, I stepped 
into a vision from
another life--

dark skeletons
of oaks and sycamores 
preserved by cold water 
for generations,
bridge abutments


Bridge Abutment below Village Site

still standing by the creek
near the confluence,
the river meandering
in the drought
as it did before

the dam, pestles still
next to pounding stones--
I had descended 
into a dream
buried in dark water


Pounding Stone near Bridge Abutments

before I was born, 
waking
to the vision 
of my return, a tribe
gone forever, old paths

still vanishing.
Where else 
am I drifting
even now, finding
the confluences?

Friday, January 30, 2015

TAPESTRIES


Ithuriel's Spears, Fiesta Flowers, Purple Chinese Houses




Chinese houses are sprouting on north-facing slopes 
and in shady washes, sharing their niche with fairy lanterns, 
Ithuriel's spears, larkspur, while twenty miles away, the skeletal
steel frame of a children's hospital sprouts on the bluffs,

on land donated by the developer, rising above condemned 
vineyards and pasture, a "behemoth of bad planning" 
inducing the growth of a new city through the expansion 
of one clogged artery of traffic just north of the river. 

In fields near the hospital, weeds still
hide mice and rabbits, obscuring coyotes 
in the dim halls of orchards, releasing air 
into an ocean of smog. I had almost forgotten 

that you can stand in an ocean of breath
and merge your breath with brilliant tribes
struggling into the sun, that you can sit by a creek,
no more than the stillness of the grass, sensing



Poppies

the timeless spirit at the root of form, forgetting
your face as the battered moon rises again above
the evening hills. Golden eagles sliced through the air 
side by side, just above me, down through the wash,

swooping between the trees and gliding out 
over the valley until I lost them in the clouds, 
and an hour later, as I scrambled up the slope, 
the eagles stepped out of the oaks above me 

and floated--almost large enough to carry
me away--gliding higher until they were specks
and then gone. Sure of our end, I wanted
to sleep forever in the woods, the valley

stretching out for miles in the haze, below me
the landmarks strangely small, the strident whistle 
of the titmouse calling me back, a network
of trails linking the creeks and woodlands--



Baby Blue Eyes and Fiddleneck

still pristine (except 
for the cattle), the trails webbing 
the entire range blocked by pockets 
of development, the land owners all

connected. I teetered on the edge 
of that high ridge, the city so obscured 
by smog I couldn't see it--perhaps 
gone a century--a web slightly billowing

in the breeze, and I chased a meadowlark 
at the edge of a large flock downhill, 
a squirrel scurrying over its own thin trail 
from one rock pile to another, ants slowly

discarding husks from their tunnels. Overhead, 
a flock of acorn woodpeckers set up an alarm, cackling
maniacally as I passed through their territory, 
the trail weaving into a clearing where I found



Lupine and Vetch

a pounding stone, one mortar sprouting grass, 
the other black with stagnant water, the roots 
of a buckeye breaking the rock in two. 
I followed every path by the creek, finding 

more pounding stones wherever I turned, 
clearly in view of each other or parts 
of the village on both sides of the creek. 
I sensed a radiance that somehow remains

in the village sites, the mortars healed over
and sprouting grass, others collecting rain, 
most of the house pits quilted by cow pies
sprouting living jewels, the hillsides nearby

torn and washed away, streaked 
with ochre, yellow, black, one pit-- 
with a fence post in the middle dangling
from a strand of barbed wire--so deep



Purple Chinese Houses

I could not see the bottom, another filled
with lime-green water, the slopes
near the mines scored by mule and horse paths.
That day I lost myself on the trails,

and when I stepped across a creek,
I had a vision of the harmony
of things--a golden, equal-armed cross
behind manifestation blazing

in my inner eye as though it were always
just beneath the outer robe of concealment--
the energy radiant in each leaf and petal--and I
had taken just enough steps to see it.

A massive oak kept reaching higher
within an infinitely vast fabric of energy,
the sun, through its branches,
still weaving tapestries of flowers.




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

NEW LAND DESIGNATIONS


Purple Vetch and Fiddleneck



My new life began on an avenue 
that twenty years ago was miles 
from the edge of town, the pastureland, 
vineyards and orchards slowly erased 

by houses and businesses. Near
the freeway, close to the river 
on the south side, secure subdivisions 
crowded together along 

the bluff. For years, I had taken 
the rural avenues north of the river 
to witness the seasons, never guessing 
the city was sprawling so far north 


Fiddleneck and Popcorn Flowers at Sunset

as I drove past orchards in bloom 
or bearing fruit or bare, in spring mustard 
and vetch choking the roadside and the rows 
of some orchards. No longer grazed, pastures

bloomed with fiddleneck and owl's clover, one, almost wild, 
with harvest brodiaea, the umbels crowning blonde grass 
with purple, the leaves of vineyards brilliant 
in slanted sunlight. On the first afternoon 

of my new life, I drove the avenue homeward 
and saw on Avenue 40 the first bulldozers lined up 
in the only place I had ever sighted a yellow-headed blackbird, 
not far from a wooden post where once a roadrunner perched,

Fiddleneck at Base of Foothills

the only one I have sighted on the valley floor. Ahead of me 
stretched thousands of acres of grasslands and the plateaus,
the base of the foothills. The county had rezoned
the land so that in twenty years a city 

could grow there as far as the eye could see, 
from the river all the way into the foothills and mountains. 
By then, my new life could be over,
my last life with land where song birds

cannot forage, with flowers 
whose seeds cannot grow, a land without roots, 
a river with roots of rain but with water 
that can never find an ocean. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

THE CATTLE



River Canyon



On the way up, I needed 
words to calm myself, 
on this winter day when smog 
smothers the valley again, grays 
the rocks half a mile away                               Take a different path.
where the creek shines like chrome.
All afternoon I explored the paths 
webbing down to the creek
where pounding stones and trails 
are all that remain of the tribe 
that once settled on cleared, 
gentle inclines. I ventured up 


Squaw Leap

the steep slopes toward the top 
to claim it as my own in the late                        Take a different path.
afternoon sun. For all of an afternoon 
I trespassed, perhaps not meant 
to look down anymore 
on the grayness below that never 
clears. At the edge of the cliff I lost myself 
easily in the breath of trees and grasses, 
above chemicals ruining mind
and body, knowing I cannot protect             Take a different path.
these hillsides. Not long ago 
the tribe was ravaged by sickness 
and finished off by murder and 
starvation, the air and water 
and the remaining creatures no longer 
belonging to the earth. I have always 
kept some faith in my feet, and I hiked 
past cattle that fled in absolute terror 
of me or refused to budge 
when I approached, all
without horns. Those animals                            Take a different path.
could have done me great harm, 
but didn't. I have brought you here 
to the edge of this cliff to remember 
the valley as it was before the earth 
was sold. I will remain
as a few magic words that fly 
from this cliff over the valley 
to write the language of flowers 


Baby Blue Eyes and Goldfields

gone forever, to bear witness 
for the air and water passing 
through everything living, to ease 
the desolation of those who believe                  Take a different path.
that all must wisely share the earth, 
and although I may not even be meant 
to be the voice, my words will take you 
part of the way, past the last trees 
to the rocks at the top behind which 
a mother is lying beside her newborn calf, 
a young bull grazing, so powerful 
and unconcerned you might think them 
godlike and pure, untouched                         Take a different path.
for generations, the huge horns 
without garlands, without blood. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

LOOPING BACK

Poppies and Lupine near Village Site



A phoebe loops to the last
serious fence and chirps
excitedly, distracting us 
from its nest as we creep...

three feet away before it leaps 
and weaves through the wings 
of a cattle guard into the branches 
of a valley oak. Once I flew

down this road while my father
snoozed in the passenger seat
after a long day of fishing
in the heat, thirty-five years ago....



Ithuriel's Spears and Fiesta Flowers by Stream

He died a week later. I return again
to search for signs of the vanished
at the confluences--trails, house pits,
pounding stones--until I sense  

an overarching consciousness, 
the grass and trees tuning
to a frequency that I know 
my father felt so long ago,

my soul tuned to the tranquility 
of the World Soul, a peace
beyond understanding that never
totally vanishes from the earth,


Ithuriel's Spears and Pretty Face

a peace that links us again
as swallows thread through
branches into the holes of one
of the few unaltered embankments 

large enough for a whole flock, 
violet-green swallows suddenly 
weaving between them, both flocks
describing in air and water 

the presence of flies as we gaze 
silently a long time at loops 
of white and brown, white
and iridescent violet-green. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

JOURNEY BACK TO THE FOUNDATION

Pounding Stone at Confluence of Kings River and Big Creek:
Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Year



I submerged myself
In the reservoir, plunging
Down the denuded slope into
The canyon emptied by drought,
And settled on a pounding stone 
At the confluence,
Where a newt floated
In a mortar next to a pestle,


Newt and Pestle in a Mortar

An ancient trail leading
West toward another abandoned
Village, and east toward the flats
Through a thick, underwater crop
Of cockleburs that flourish
Wherever the reservoir
Has chewed away the woodlands,
A chimney looming alone
With the name Chuck Morris
Chiseled twice before the house
Drowned and floated away.
Forty years ago, my family
Migrated from L.A., all
Of us in a van winding 
Around the reservoir a month
later. We settled on a spot
Near the flats and while
My father fished, I stumbled
On a web and gazed transfixed
At the intricate tapestry until
I glimpsed a bulbous spider.
I fled as if I’d encountered
The frightful weaver
Of our fate, and I found
Upstream the foundation
Of a ranch house, the concrete
Broken up by the roots
Of oak trees that claimed
The former rooms, the rest
Of the house swept away
By floods over the years.


Foundation of House in Floodplain

And there I heard the voice
Of my daimon: “You will
Be back in thirty-five years.”
Thirty-five years later
I returned after several floods
Had torn through the canyon
Sweeping over our favorite
Hole. One year, I teetered, 
Amazed by the force 
Of the flood and sensing
A hush underneath the roar,
A silence rising as the flood
Slowly subsided. By then
Most of the people in that van
Were gone, my father,
Grandparents, and uncle side
By side in Clovis Cemetery,
My brother in another state,
My father, forty years ago,
Always facing the depths--
I could not tell him
Of the voice from my soul
Or how I could feel him
Tuning his soul to the quiet
Rhythms of water as he
Cast his line and waited....
I no longer grasp water
Or miss the webs
Torn by the wind
Or even attempt to cast
A line as I immerse myself
In the quiet, spiders marching out
Of a crack and wobbling
Toward me, a timeless peace
Drenching the floodplain....