Category Archives: Nature

Baright Library Poetry Reading

Here are the seven poems that I read for the Ralston, Baright Library Reading. I hope everyone enjoys them. They were a joy to write and a pleasure to read.

Resting on black haunches in the shadows

Weeds

Grew taller when I was a boy

beneath the humid heart of Texas.

Adventure crouched in the dappled

shade cast by broad green leaves,

where I sought monsters through sultry heat.

I knew them by their chipped green

scales or rust-orange armor as they

rested on black haunches in the shadows,

waiting to feed on heroes like me.

Red augers, rising brontosaurus

necks lifted above the jungle weeds,

felt the terrible slice of my cypress

sword and thrust of sugar cane lance.

Across the accursed land, treasure

after treasure and dozens of thankful

damsels were freed from taloned

clutches—just in the nick of time.

In the fields and lots no one tends,

creatures still lurk in the shade of

velvet leaf, bindweed, and fleabane.

Squint your eyes just so and you

will see chrome grimaces and grills

of forgotten menace, waiting for heroes like you.

 

Gingilos dreams of white foam on shallow blue seas.

Musing Over Stone: Mt Gingilos, Crete

Lost time rains on my spirit

and beads on its white feathers,

then I wake to find dew on my bed.

A watery sky arches above me

and mountainous silhouettes

strain for what nobody knows.

I rise from my nylon nest,

half-asleep on unsteady feet,

shivering in the mountain’s shadow.

A fleece shirt buffers the chill,

but nothing need warm my spirit,

ready for its climb in the sun.

 

Gray expanses fall at my waiting feet,

great eyelids sealed over ages of sleep,

their lashes of grass touching the seam

of talus and earth. I imagine, beneath

the blocky grit, Gingilos dreams

of white foam on shallow blue seas.

When my fingers brush the layered dust

on that vital first hold, time seeps

through my skin, slow as the glacier

that groaned past this place

ten thousand years before I awoke.

The eons enter my restless blood

and grind my bones to dust.

 

Cosmic clocks have only moments

of time for me, so I edge upward,

across the face, shifting my weight,

focusing hold to hold. I rise—

a mist of fog—leaving hardly

a trace to remember, soon to evaporate

in the first rays of morning sun.

A thousand feet higher, my heart dizzies

at the vista. Each vertical step

has drawn back the horizon. From here

I glimpse the truth: I am a dust mote,

with an ego large as the star that birthed it.

 

Pausing on a ledge wide as my foot,

I dip my hands into a bag of chalk

belted to my waist. Wisps of white powder

drift away on the wind, disappear

into inner space, part of something

larger—different somehow.

Like me—yesterday.

A thousand feet further on,

at the peak, I breathe cool air,

smell the pines’ tang on the wind,

but their sharpness quickly dulls;

taut senses fall slack off the edge.

The risk—skin in the game—keeps

every tenuous hour precious,

and my spirit above the ground.

The bright rope, running untangled and free, reminds us our fate is tied to one another.

Rope

drapes around my feet,

like an old, faithful dog.

It ties us to this vertical stage

we dance upon as we perform

our rising, brutal ballet for

no one but ourselves.

We push and pull our way

upward in turns, minds

focused and taut, hearts

soothed within the harmony

of rock, line, and movement.

We and the rope knot our fists

against gravity’s strong current,

as each man ascends alone:

lost in the stone’s sharp grit,

the impulsive voice of the wind,

and the silent distance below.

The bright rope, running

untangled and free, reminds us

our fate is tied to one another.

Rope binds us like blood:

woven with faith, unfrayed by fear,

made brave by love.

Under the scornful weight of her near defeated will, she pushes on in hope.

Sisyphus

She envelops the chair across

the desk from me, glancing

up with eyes a little wide

and a wrinkled, hopeful brow.

 

She’s sat in places like this

a hundred times. The pattern,

like a millstone, has worn

a groove in her life;

she no longer sees an escape.

 

Her fight against foraging

in aisles laden with chips

and freezers of custard

regenerates unchanged

as Cosmo mocks her

through the checkout.

 

Still, under the scornful weight

of her near defeated will,

from far behind every

short, gasping breath,

She pushes on in hope.

 

She begs for freedom’s taste,

to walk swift, with grace,

down any street, path, or aisle,

to turn her head and maybe–

see an admiring face.

 

I proffer my open hand,

choosing to be caught

in her endless task

that’s likely too large

for either of us to push aside.

It is my curse to try.

Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Take This Moment

Stand beside rippling water
running shallow over glacial sand.
Feel your blood fall into steady
rhythms to match the low whisper
of water moving through the reeds.

Breathe deep, expand your caged body
into fall skies etched with cirrus;
expand beyond the branches
of ash and cottonwood that stretch
sleeping buds into the distant blue.

Fall into the slow march of this world
where time slides by and nothing cares
where it’s from, nor where it goes:
grasses go dormant; water turns to ice;
rocks grind to loess, and bones turn to stone.

Drink this tiny sip of God’s eternity,
feel how it whets your thirsty soul,
set your roots under the mud
and feed from the layers of the land.
Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Old Gods

shuffle into the cobbled piazza

dressed in loose brown tweed

and slouching hats that hide

eyes dark with loss.

They sink onto wrought iron

benches below the silent campanile

and toss crumbs of stale grace

from paper sacks to adoring flocks,

pink-footed believers who never

seem sated as they preen and mill

about their gods’ leather soled feet

heads cocked, eyeing for more.

Selfie

Shuffle through the streets,

careful not to trip and fail,

a splash in Trevi fountain.

Look up, “Oh! A cute kitty!

Cup the phone in your palm

hold it at arm’s length,

compose your personal emoji:

cock your head a touch,

drop a shoulder, tuck your chin

whisper “prune” or smile.

“Look at me!”

Click and whirr the shot

Bring the phone back,

cup it with your body.

Chimp your masterpiece:

face in focus, no bombs,

the kitty looks pretty too.

The world returns to periphery.

“Where was I?” Facebook,

Flikr, Snapchat, Twitter.

“Someone liked my post!”

Keeping Your Natural Rhythm

I am newborn and slip into the scenery and the silence

Entering the Rhythm

Everyone has a natural rhythm. In my seasonal cycle, mountains rise in me like rivers rise in the spring. When the snow melts off the streets and the trees open their first buds, dreams of walking  through deep valleys and struggling up steep, mountainous slopes flood my sleep, washing away the winter’s months of stillness.  It’s difficult waiting for early summer. I squirm like a kid waiting for Christmas. I make lists of maps and look for places to walk away from empty talk, garish skylines of aluminum, and streets lined with black staves of wire instead of trees.

But, no matter how anxious I am to dive into the first national park I see, when I do go, there’s always a waiting period before I can settle into the trail’s rhythm.  On those initial miles, I feel out of sync with nature, and it’s not until I’m two or three days deep into a long-awaited hike that my body will break through the surface tension holding me captive. My muscles and nerves relax and suddenly, I’m no longer drowning in questions or choices that don’t really belong to me.  From that point, I am newborn and can rise into the scenery and the silence, while the sun’s warmth on my skin laps away the last vestiges of civilization.

Technology and Syncopation

As I slip into every day’s simple cycle, I am reminded of how in the past, for tens of millennia, when the sun went down—the world fell into a darkness we could not see into. What was out there, silent, watching, hungry, was a mystery that no one dared delve into. The night was for taking shelter and sleeping until the sun returned and lit our way again.

We have undone this rhythm with lights on everything. Don’t get me wrong or label me a Luddite; I enjoy having lights to read by, music to listen to, and television to watch, but the fact remains that we have thrown off our natural rhythm, and that exacts a price.

For mostly economic reasons, we have imposed our will on nature’s rhythm, the beat of which has formed us since the beginning of time. This technological syncopation has entered our minds and seriously thrown us off. As an Air Force member, I worked shift work for nearly twenty years, and I remember reading research from the late Seventies that showed the ill effects working night and day had on physical and mental health. Today’s research continues to reinforce those earlier studies.

Paying Modernity’s Price

In 2016, Medical News Today, an international publication for health news, published the results of a meta-analysis that showed shift work posed an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and a second study indicated that shift work impaired brain functions like: memory, cognitive speed, and overall brain power. Apparently, we cannot throw off the rhythms that have formed us without threatening our health.

Depression is higher among shift workers

 

Carla V. Finkielstein, an associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, said that ” television, computers and longer hours of social activity also contribute to what is referred to as “social jet lag,” as well as many new diseases and disorders that are more prominent in Western societies.” Depression is higher among shift workers. Plus, many of these disorders occur in those who work longer hours than usual. Even too much overtime throws one’s system into a tailspin.

Natural Healing

And what can set our mental health back on an even flight path? The outdoors. Being surrounded by nature has been shown again and again to reduce people’s stress, increase their cognitive ability and creativity, and strengthen their ability to focus their attention. Putting aside time to be outside in a pleasant environment shifts our attention away from ourselves and away from negative emotions. Even something as simple as a walk in your local park has been shown to increase your attention, calm stress, and lower your blood pressure.

Remember when I said it took two or three days for me to slip into the rhythm of the trail? Meet David Strayer. He is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention, and he talks about something he calls the “three-day effect.” Strayer demonstrated  it with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking. “The three-day effect,” Strayer says, “is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough.”

So there’s scientific proof for what the early environmentalist, John Muir intuited. He said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ” But however beneficial to my health, I will always venture into the wild not because science says I should, but rather how it makes me feel connected to something larger and so very alive.  Entering the rhythm of the natural world resonates within us as humans. Nature restores our spirits, heals our bodies, and soothes  our weary souls.