Tag Archives: nature

Writing With the Season

graveyard-walkI can’t tell you why I enjoy autumn as much as I do. Apart from the many holidays and the associated consumerism, I enjoy the aesthetic this time of year imposes on parts of the country. In my hometown of Flagstaff, AZ, the leaves on the aspen trees turn whole sides of Mount Elden a new, shocked shade of yellow. In my new home in Lincoln, NE, the season is just as magnificent, minus the mountain. It’s darker and windier every morning as I walk to campus. The nights are cool and toasty.

As a child, I once took a stapler to the woods and tried to “fix” the falling leaves. I was too young to understand the relationship between seasons and change. I liked the color green, and I was mortified that things could curl, turn red and yellow like infections, and fall to the ground. The pine needles, too, browned and plummeted. Before I could begin stapling the leaves back to the branches that I thought (wrongly) I’d be tall enough to reach, I wondered if maybe this change was good. If maybe it was supposed to happen. Maybe the leaves, like fingernails, would grow back to replace what has gone.

Now, I’ve come to prefer orange, red, yellow, and gold, but I still have trust issues with nature. I feel on edge watching it change, wanting it to be the same, but I can do nothing to stop the leaves from falling.

Autumn must be a good season for writers. I associate it with writing, at least. I associate these months with ghost stories and tall tales, and the existential crisis of trying to be static in a changing world. I associate the season with staying inside writing poems while eating pie or writing a novel every November. I want to celebrate the season, when I can, by writing, walking, and sharing. I enjoy the mystery, even the uncertainty. It’s a time to lean on the edge of our seats to see how the narrative will unfold.

Maybe autumn isn’t for everybody, but it suits me. I’m learning to enjoy the change.

-jk

 

Reading Terry Tempest Williams in Zion

Zion 2This week, I had the pleasure of joining one of my best friends for a trip through parts of southern Utah, starting in Moab and ending in Zion National Park. We went for the usual reasons (viewing nature, camping, hiking, burning a dictionary and cooking quesadillas over it). After hiking the Wildcat Canyon Trail (a good ten miles of limb-crunching views), we went to our campsite and read our selected book in the fading light, both collections of short pieces on the Southwest and West, Getting Over the Color Green and Northern Lights.

In Northern Lights, I stumbled upon an essay by Terry Tempest Williams, “The Clan of One-Breasted Women.” Williams grew up in Utah in the 1950s when fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada drifted beyond the test sites. As a result, many people downwind of the tests, including her family, suffered from radiation. Williams meditates in her essay on the many women (many in her family) downwind of the test sites who developed breast cancer from the radioactive fallout.

 

At the peak of the hike in Zion, I could see far, far out into the distance. I was surrounded by a place brimming with life; the whole area is a complexity of ecosystems overlapping, intertwined: red and tan oceans spotted green or lush with ponderosa and aspen or colored with sand and pale sunlight. Much of the Southwest doesn’t look alive to the untrained eye. Deserts play tricks on us by hiding their life, but life is always there. Overlooking Zion, I was overwhelmed and haunted by its history.

Zion

In the 1860s, Mormon pioneers founded a town near Zion, Springdale, and named the nearby canyon Zion. To Mormons, Zion refers to a gathering place for the faithful, and naming the canyon was an act of claiming the land for Mormon culture. But while pioneers were in the process of colonizing the area, the region was home to Southern Paiute communities pushed out by U.S. settlement. Like much of the Southwest, Zion is part of overlapping histories and state-sanctioned narrative revision.

The place was shaped by geologic hands, the fingers of rivers, a mind of clouds and rain, then engulfed with diverse flora and fauna, indigenous communities, overrun by Spanish colonization, Mexican statehood, Mormon expedition, and U.S. authority that ignored all previous layers by deeming the Southwest an absolute desert, a place so deserted they could safely test nuclear weapons there without harming anyone or anything worth mentioning. But Williams contests, as many do, that all of it is worth mentioning, worth respecting and preserving and revering.

After reading Williams’s essay, I stargazed with my friend in the desert where the stars are aggressively visible. The Southwest is misleading to those unfamiliar with it. The stars are brighter here, the air is heavier with scent, the land is rougher, and the going can be tough. Zion, a place of peace, a place of eternity, may be an apt name. The whole Southwest may be a kind of Zion, a refuge for wanderers and romantics. Its beauty is rare and atypical, taking on strange shapes and colors, rich sounds and haunting narratives. Its beauty is misfit and misleading, but in its presence it’s impossible to miss.

-jk

Resurrection of the Berries

It’s Spring, and World Poetry Day, so I wrote a poem to celebrate both.

Rivers Flow

They bloom every year,
bulbous little puffs sprouting
cell by cell, drop by drop

from dirt, light, water,
these berries on the vine, soft,
inflated with juice, dark,

and ready to fall.
They grew from the same water
the Buddha’s mother drank,

the same soil Plato
decayed into, swept away
by worms and roots and seeds

that birds carried off
and dropped. Did Socrates know
that I would pluck him clean

off the vine? Maybe
his particles swept downstream,
joined the clay formations

used in giving birth
to Michelangelo’s David.
I let this black juice drip

down my cheek as I
stuff molecules of the past
between my teeth, compress

my dead ancestors
together with my tongue.
I’m sure that we will meet

not too long from now
when we are resurrected
from our bodies, when we

slip hesitantly
into a nirvana
of disconnectedness,

when we fly away
element by element,
cell by cell, drop by drop

into wilderness.
Then I’m sure we’ll meet again
as we’ve met in the past,

me as a flea’s leg,
you as the fur on a wolf,
or me as a flower

placed on the forehead
of a dead saint cremated
with sticks from your branches,

or, if dreams come true,
you as a wild berry bush,
me as a ladybug,

both of us together
in a bubble of green time
carried down a cool stream.

-jk

Photograph of the Lochsa River in northern Idaho, by the good folks at Keene Short Photography. Poem by Keene Short, 2015.