Skip to main content

Nature Lessons

ISSUE:  Autumn 1993

During the crummy ride back to camp
jouncing and lurching down rutted spur roads
winding through the tattered mountains
the body stiffens into an old tire
that must become a living thing
every morning.
The interlocked heat of compressed bodies
warms each rain-wet, sweat-soaked man
as he drowses
or lights a smoke
or eats an apple
or quacks about nonsense.
From the height of a blasted-out cliff
some stare in passing
out a sleeve-smeared window
down through drizzle and alder-scented air
at two swans
white and luminous
against the coarse, sallow grass of the tide flat,
the cold shallow green of the river,
the exotic black of the bay’s deepening water.
The laconic old chaser with the ruined body
whose attempts at each day
are growing as tentative as wisps of cigarette smoke
left wavering along the mainline
says, “Ducks.”
“They must be ducks.”


Skunk cabbage is coming back up
yellow stalks in all the bottomland
that hasn’t been cut and logged.
I also see them by small icy pools
tucked into pockets of wet moss—
springs I drink from
just before sending in a turn of logs
over the soft ground centuries in building.
Slack-off whistle, a long and a short,
a shave and a haircut, quitting time.
The road to camp snakes around the bay
gray rock driven to jumbled mud
shakes us like jackhammers.
Two guys light up smokes
I don’t see the flames on their faces
like back in dark November’s
snowy, rainy mornings.
Dawn comes earlier now.
Smoke curls blankly out of a nose
a mouth vents another burst of smoke
rain blows in the cracked windows
thoughts of old girlfriends
the coming days, the time to serve for money
and private thoughts—
remote like this place.

There are two swans down in the lagoon
floating near the greening beach grass.
They’ve been here for several days.
They are so white against the water
filled with upsidedown mountains.
Someone says,
“They sleep with their heads tucked under a wing.”


All the days wear a party hat.
The snow line falls a little
then it rains.
The snow line goes up a little.
The days are slow
as if the sun has slipped out of gear.

I look down at the blue blue bay
far below the sidehill.
Up ahead, a log truck grinds up the road
blocks the way.

The angular flake
of an obsidian black raven
severs the still air
above the brutal clearcuts:
Native land, butchered land.

Native corporations cut land
near neighboring tribes.
I saw an Indian in the movies
narrating, bemoaning,
clearcuts. White man ways.
Tribal ways. The same old ways.

Raven is an ally
but not the only trickster.
Corporations are not of the body,
your body, our bodies, this body we call Home,
the Earth.

A pair of swans work the bay for food.
When they leave, and soon they will,
they will burst against the stillness
to break the water’s grip

The tips of their nomadic wings
will make a last impress on this place:
four rows of widening rings
interlocking, vanishing.
A momentary shiver
on the cloud-glare sheen of the water.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading