Aspen, ponderosa pine, blue spruce
pink glacier-cut rock, scree, ravens
grey jay, peregrine falcon, hawk.
We climb to 11,000 feet in three days,
camp at Lawn Lake for three days. Alpine
tundra. Elk, bighorn sheep, marmot.
Tileston Meadows, ticks in grass,
rock face of Mummy Mountain.
Binoculars show pink cracks in grey rock.
Stoke gas stoves, play cards.
Boil water, set up tarps, lay out
sleeping bags, hang bear bag.
Watch crescent moon slice into
Fairchild Mountain. Moonlight
makes a mosque of the rocks.
Yellow aspen splash in dark green
spruce and pine. Gullies where streams
slash during spring snowmelt.
One rock, feather or flower worth
more than money. Need no wallet,
keys. Just clothes for fur.
All day climb toward saddle to see
what’s on other side. One hawk floating
among bare peaks and over valleys.
Wind at 13,000 feet
turns to sleet. Turn back from peak,
take boulders two at a time down.
Winter moves into mountains.
Then we fly from Denver to New York
where it’s still summer.
Blackbrush – Coleogyne ramosissima
the dominant understory shrub
in the pinyon-juniper canyons.
Mountain-mahogany – Cercocarpus montanus and ledifolia.
Single-leaf ash – Fraxinus anomalus
and possibly a western hophornbeam
by the small birch-like leaves
and the shredding bark
in a moist stretch of joint trail.
The joint-fir, green ephedra
looks like an ocean plant.
Could the wind or white water rivers alone
have shaped these sandstone, red rock forms?
Network of canyons, inverse of mountains.
It had to be ocean
ebbing and flowing, emotionally, like wind,
moving atmosphere, thicker
shaving, scraping, polishing, gouging, digging
then, shallower, dinosaur swamps
now, dry, rock gardens.
Explain the human history with water:
did the Anasazi visit neighbours
along the canyon rims and deep within,
combination caves and red-rock houses
small windows, doorways, just crawlways,
with corn gifts on summer evenings
when the canyon bottoms held permanent, not intermittent,
streams? After them
came the Ute and Navajo, Spanish and English.
Ravens dine on road kill.
A few long red roads connect some canyons.
The unprotected flats are overgrazed, rabbitbrush.
It is interesting
that as I learn the woody and herbaceous plants,
walk the desert foothills, I too could stay.
Although I hardly gave it a thought
I didn’t really doubt
our miniature juniper, a bonsai,
would survive our desert vacation.
It likes the dry
air of our home, needs water
once a week at most and seems
meditative and active, both. While away
I rediscovered my love of agaves –
sotol and century
plant – met Mortonia and became
reacquainted with squawbush, its citrus
drupe which makes traveling the long horizon
of the desert uplands endurable.
wavyleaf–dominant and regally spaced
giving ground to mesquite only on the sere
sand flats. I counted and drew inflorescenses,
spikelets, florets, awns but grasses
remain a mystery
their microscopic parts. This year
I’ll study, give them serious thought before
our Spring starts. The cactus wren was the one
bird I could be certain about. Sunsets
made me sorry
the desert is not my home. But the ocotilloes
flowered before we left and that made up
for the vicious attack of a hedgehog cactus.
Impressive, ponderosa pine and Arizona cypress
the canyon canopy
watered with snowmelt and along the high cliffs
limestone formations predating our arrival by
ten million years of weather. Newspapers
kept us aware humanity had not accomplished yet
the end of history
and that was fair. The planes were full of citizens
who no longer applaud upon landing. Snow flew,
not a pinyon pine or manzanita within two moons
walking. On the dining room sideboard, waiting,
our miniature juniper.
Robert Ronnow‘s most recent poetry collections are New & Selected Poems: 1975-2005 (Barnwood Press, 2007) and Communicating the Bird (Broken Publications, 2012). Visit his web site at www.ronnowpoetry.com.
Cover photo credit: Mike Dole