Mail Routes

These high desert roads make no sense,
twisting and turning and causing countless
fatalities here in the mountains and table lands
of northern New Mexico;

Old cow paths now make up the crazy
criss-cross roads in Boston, while what
used to be wagon tracks and Kit Carson’s pony
express routes here in the wild, wild West
became the asphalt roads of today, whether
or not they are practical, which so often
seems not the case;

In clear weather, this particular switchback
is safer than when iced over, but it’s blind/blind,
impossible to see what is coming due to the grade,
despite being posted 15 mph, and yet it is
one of those critical conveyances if one is
to arrive in the distant community of Taos;

Might as well slow down and enjoy the long
purple view, the Sangres and Picuris mountain
ranges converging, carving verdant valleys
accessible only by certain routes, and one is given
to wonder how these far-flung regions ever settled
in such remote places, and yet how could people
know what areas would eventually be centralized,
spreading into towns and cities, they were
simply indigenous, all of them, and some do
remain much that way;

Still, remote is how we, ourselves choose now
to live, across mesas and into the Tusas mountains,
despite only a tiny paved state highway bisecting
cattle-dotted valleys in this particular region,
conveying the traveler Up and up for some
twenty miles straight into a dead end
where Ponderosa forests harbor distant lakes,
which surely appeared as mirages to early explorers
and where rivers thunder or meander, depending
on the season, where elk roam and deer jump,
and mountain lions and black bears sequester safely
under rock faced cliffs, in crags or cracks,
high above and distant from access roads,
across impossible to traverse valleys
in which humans are less likely
to blunder in blindly
and scare themselves silly.

Burro with Sangre de Christo mountain range ~ bj 2022

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.


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


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.


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.

The Soloist in Sukhothai

Another set of sterling observations from my daughter’s travels …



What is life without someone to share its experience with? Two adolescents cuddled together on a motorbike, out for lunch and a shared cigarette. Two lovers taking pictures at the wats – cheek to cheek- revelling in their luck to be here in Thailand with one another. A gaggle of 20-something girls, high on wearing baggy elephant print pants, in awe of a reality outside their dorms rooms and boyfriends left behind. An elderly couple meandering on cruiser bicycles, steeped in childhood memories, in ruins. The troupe of tourists led by a head with a microphone, cameras clinking on the rails of the mobile corral that sputters under their weight.

There’s a figure in the shady blanket of a stout banyan tree. Sipping the scene in. Are they lonely, tortured by the absence of their clan? Longing for the shared experience, reminiscing of days spent in the arms of a…

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Guest in Your House

Pondering my daughter’s latest post about her service in Nepal as an acupuncture physician, I am suddenly struck by our shared proclivity to leave comfort of the familiar and strike out, only to become a guest in someone else’s home, community, country. A young woman at thirty, there is a world to explore and she is discovering her place in service to it.

My own reflections at sixty-one reveal that life has been a constellation of significant choices: that of casting myself as far across the country as possible at eighteen in order to live in what felt as foreign a place as I could imagine. Moving from a city in Southern California to the woods and waters of Maine, I spent thirty-two years growing into myself while raising two daughters. Somewhere in the midst of it, we broke camp and set out for a tiny Hawaiian island, spending a couple of years there before relocating to the high desert of New Mexico. Returning again to Maine a year later for the duration of my girls’ education, I then embarked on another adventure, this time to the Big Island of Hawaii. In between there was traveling; snapshots of other places, other times.

I’d be lying if I said there was any grand plan. There wasn’t.

This young traveling progeny and I share a love of freedom of what is wild, of fresh air and clean waters; we are people who love to cook wholesome food grown as close to the ground as possible. Appreciating the richness of cultures beyond our own, we are keenly interested in what is important to others; what lies beyond the brush of a passing shoulder, what concerns another holds in their fathomless eyes.

There is something profoundly symbolic about choosing to live beyond one’s comfort zone, a sharpening of the senses in experiencing what is outside one’s own language, routine and story. To go where nobody knows my past and where the future is uncertain makes the metaphor clear: we are but guests here on Mother Earth. As a guest, I remember my manners and help where I can with a humble and grateful heart. Like any courteous guest, I never take my position in the household for granted. I help prepare; clean up after myself.

In the way of all guests, I have come to respect the small and large miracles revealed to my unsuspecting delight. An open heart invites upswells of love and appreciation. Like plumbing any good well, supplies of kindness and understanding quite easily reveal themselves in limitless abundance. There is, and forever will be plenty to share.