Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prayers for Arborglyphs

For this week's prompt we were supposed to write a prayer for something.  I've been grading creative nonfiction essays all day and one image has been revisiting me -- the image of an arboglyph: an old aspen tree that's been carved into over and over for decades we see each time our family hikes from the valley to the high camp at Squaw Valley.  My students have been writing incredible essays and all day I've had to hold myself back from writing. So the tree stuck in my mind.  It stuck there as I drove the boys to the dentist, or as I drove by myself in the car listening to a man on the radio talk about his journey raising his autistic son.  And when I finally sat down I knew why that was speaking to me and my family about: it was the long journey we've just traveled.  The metaphorical wilderness we've found our way out of.  Here is my draft. 

Prayer for Arboglyphs

“the Basque sheepherder humanizes an otherwise unrelentingly pristine natural environment. Thus, whether wandering through an aspen grove or contemplating a stone monument he enjoys a certain illusion of not being alone. Rather, despite his solitude a man can commune with the ghosts of past generations and enjoy some small sense of purpose as he leaves his own mark as a legacy for future herders.”
— William A. Douglass, Basque Sheepherders of the American West (63)
The trail rises from the valley—vein to
sky—sometimes granite bedded, sometimes hushed
 by pine needles.  When we walk it, we walk
for hours. We try to remember each
turn, each nook.  Try to find the unmarked way. 
Blue skies bury us in expectations.

The creek that threads us up waxes and wanes
between full bellied summer and the ice
 of holding its breath.  There are days when we
walk through the pygmy pines, wind whispering
like the waves of a lost sea.  We giggle
like dryads.  Other days the jagged maw
of granite islands swallow us whole
until we can no longer find each other, our way.
Echoes that bend our voices apart.

We aren’t the first to want to annotate
this passage of wilderness no matter how
steep it has become.  Half way up, black scar
of Arboglyph screams from the curved belly
of an aspen tree that we aren’t first, or alone.
God bless the tree that remembers the wound written into the wound.

So that when we return to the level
valley floor we hold that carved wilderness
in us—static whisper of aspen leaves,
the course we found, the hope like a hawks scream
that pierced us until we carried on.

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