Old Growth

The wind through the firs sounds
like the distant thundering South Pacific
from our island home, yet similarities end
there, ruddy nose running from unaccustomed
chill and fingers reluctant to part
from pockets;

It has been years since I rooted feet
in forest soil, younger and more absorbed
with survival, and it seems I never perceived
sensations so acutely, my skeleton awakened
as discrete and frail in companionship
with these massive giants, finger bones clad
insufficiently in thin shrouds of flesh,
tapping on keys as I attempt to record
a tangle of sensations since arriving
on this northwest spit of land;

Old growth firs harbor a resilience witnessed
in few places, save the redwood forests
of northern California, sudden winds damage
delicate saplings yet they continue growing
apace if not more determined into curvy
arboreal titans that dwarf mere human
presence; only massive metal contraptions
conceived by the minds of men can conquer
them lacking, as men do, unknown frontiers
yet to vanquish;

Ordered chaos is strewn everywhere,
detritus piled up, living jumble of oversized
matchsticks awaiting one careless spark; yet
when fires once regularly swept through
these forests (lightning-scarred trunks bearing
witness), the strongest survived and soil
was enriched, carbon craved by undergrowth, layer
upon layer assuring futures for generations
mirroring the content of life on the surface
of a planet defined by science but experienced
as a living poetry only nature can inscribe.

Day Sail

Wavelets snap and turn
in the sunlight, deceiving eyes
into believing there are creatures
emerging from the depths;

Strands of kelp curve and twist
like the wake of a ship, glinting
just enough to hint at sea otters
frolicking in welcome brilliance;

Markers the novice misses, looking
too hard and long while gulls
soar and dive in the distance
and this, only this indicates activity
worthy of the quest;

As the sloop approaches the kerfuffle,
a rank sea smell overwhelms the senses
and I am reminded of our encounter
with a Hawaiian monk seal detected
by aura alone on shores too distant
for ancestors to comprehend traversing.

All photos 2019 ©Bela Johnson

Travelogue 1: Pacific Northwest Revisited

I am disinclined to travel these days, preferring to remain in the half-acre gardens I have created with my own hands these past five years. Yet on the spur of the moment, I agreed to a three-week house and pet sitting gig for dear friend in one of my favorite places to visit, the Pacific Northwest. Being springtime, I knew the weather might be dicey. But after surges of early summer heat in Hawaii, I was looking forward to some relief.

Lucky for me I adapted fairly quickly, taking a couple of days to rest and acclimate, going from needing seventy degrees indoors to keep my teeth from chattering and my muscles from tightening up to sixty-five two days later, then simply let the temperature be what it would be. Four days from my arrival, the sun broke through predictably platinum skies.

Every day so far, I have gone out hiking. Old growth forests draw me in with their majestic beauty; beaches, though breezy and quite chilly this time of year, offer expanses of space in which to contemplate horizons yet to be realized, literally and figuratively. I never know what to expect from solitude in unfamiliar places, and this journey shook me down further, rattling out fears and patterns not usually obvious in my everyday routine. It’s good to dislodge the demons, to venture forth and discover that life perpetually surprises.

When I travel, I follow my nose whenever possible. Being lost brings me the most interesting adventures. The first place I stumbled upon was a beach in the early morning, a lone older man sitting in a folding chair close to the shoreline, fishing pole propped in the sand, stiff wind notwithstanding. I walked a few hundred feet toward him, but he seemed disinclined to chat, likely preferring the solitude I, myself treasure. As I turned to go, an eagle swooped over my shoulder, seagulls in screaming hot pursuit. The harassment likely annoyed the eagle who was doubtlessly tending a nest nearby. Houses lined the upper portion of the beach, separated by a buffer of driftwood typical in this part of the world. The eagle landed on a familiar rooftop and I knew this because of the streaks of white dribbling from the ridgeline. Anchored in strong talons, she began tearing apart the fish she had caught, and was left alone for a few minutes until one persistent scavenger alighted a few feet behind her. Having had enough at that point, she fled to the tall conifers. And I returned to my rental car, switched on Apple Maps to figure out where I’d gotten to, and headed out to hike a nearby forest trail.

iPhone shots taken from a distance are not ideal. Still, you can see the snow-capped Cascade Mountain Range, a cropped shot of the fisherman, and a crop of the rooftop eagle.

Returning

My love for the land, whether thick wood
or freshwater, has never left my awareness,
ever seeking shelter in the bosom
of Creation, Gaia Mother, by whatever
name she may be known;

And as I return to this rugged terrain
of my birth, I am reminded that grace
is ever offered in the pauses
and the stillness of rivers and forest,
of mirrored lakes and skies where hawk
and heron eke out survival amidst
the frenzy of human existence,
and they see us, too, their razor eyes
yet trained on survival;

Still there is no tightness in shoulder
or heartbeat, gliding freely as wind
through my own crumpled hair, cruising
on lilting thermals, heedless of danger
and their own death stalking,
and I wonder at human folly,
the mistrust of our bodies, flesh
our own indomitable link to the endless
cycle of existence, mind eluding
this blessed reality in favor of fantasy,
the movie reel oblivious to the story, itself
impressed upon the film to last as long
as it will;

Rivers stand the test of time without need
to impress anyone, lest they be dammed up
at the hands of man; nourishing waters
without which we would lose not only
beauty, but the very fount of life, itself.

  • Deception Pass, WA
    Anacortes, WA
    Eby’s Landing, WA
    Forest trail, Ladysmith, BC
    River kayaking, Leavenworth, WA
    Whidbey Island, WA

    all photos ©Bela Johnson

River Watch

The river runs, swollen in spring
from a source high up in crevasses
of snags jutting skyward of tree line,
cracks perpetually harboring snowpack,
bald crags carved by weather and the
bare relentless blaze of a
beneficent sun;

Churning down gullies and sluices,
bounding over boulders and rocks
wrapped in tangles of gnarled giants,
arboreal elders rooted in gneiss
from ages past, feeding from that
pure crystalline source;

There is no stopping the flow
until inserted concrete bulwarks
cause it to fan out, curtain-like,
sparking jewels from midday shards
of refracted light, dancing through
branches and dying in the froth
of churning surge, foaming,
ever rambling, to the inlets
of the sea.

Photos taken while traveling over Stevens Pass, Washington State. ©Bela Johnson, 2018

Streets

How can it be in this land of plenitude,
our fellows spilling out now
into city streets, smearing pristine glare
of glossy retail windows
with the crime of their insanity?

I walk and talk with open heart,
not from a place where vacant stares
meet hollow eyes;
hear his story, however true,
offer a meal he declines,
proud he is employed, no longer able
to dig holes, he says,
since someone crushed the back
of his skull with a rock.

Live long enough and it all seems plausible,
as we stroll along, talking unselfconsciously
in a throng of iPhone-toting trust fund youth,
oblivious to the suffering their lack of empathy
stamps securely on a world they inherit.

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Waking Up in a Holiday Inn

We are so willing to click in and go for the ride.
 
Neurons firing and off we jettison
into yet another collective illusion
while the god of Abraham, bless his heart,
calls it good.
It’s all good.
 
The miracle of bodies in time and space.
 
Damn the consequences as,
iPhone in hand and television cranked,
we stride out blinking, blind as moles,
into fractured rays of the sun’s early light,
ignorant of it having risen
in the utter stillness of earth’s rotation
around a fiery halo.