Ecstasy

 

dog in truck

If I were a dog

I’d long for a warm spring day in Idaho

 

 

I’d hang my head out the pickup window

and bark at the driver to go faster

 

 

we’d rush down Hankins Road

my long blond ears flapping in the wind

 

 

drinking in the freshness of newly plowed earth

and the tantalizing odor of last night’s skunk

 

 

panting joyously I’d leap from the truck

and chase the perfume of rock chucks

 

 

roll exuberantly

in the lush spring grass and slurp from the ditch

 

 

if I were a dog

 

Sanctuary at Murtaugh Lake

yellow-headed blackbird

Like the emperor himself,

a great blue heron

stalks through

gently waving reeds,

grunting and croaking,

the lord of the

hidden (the forbidden).

The other 300 birds,

cloistered concubines,

titter and screech,

gossip and jostle

with cunning conniving.

Daw-daw-ka-DAHHHH!

Sandpipers daintily

wend their way

through the rushes,

shyly sidestepping danger;

yellow-headed blackbirds

keep watch from

the tops of stalks,

their monkey-like screeches

warning of intruders;

and chittering swallows

zigzag in and out,

blue wings flashing,

busy court messengers.

Like interlopers

in the Forbidden City,

do visitors encroach

on sacred space?

Do sparrows mourn

their erstwhile innocence?

Do blackbirds shield

their sisters from

straying humankind?

Are herons livid that

their rules are undermined?

What is all the chatter?

Daw-daw-ka-DAHHHH!

 

Kootenai Covenant

Deadwood reservoir (2)
As constant as the morning sun

burning the mist off Snowshoe Peak,

the Kootenai keep their covenant

with Quilxka Nupika,

who charged them

“to guard and keep the land forever.”

When white men came

with guns and threats,

treaties and disease,

the Kootenai refused to sign,

their promises to the Supreme Creator

already sealed in their hearts.

As stewards of the earth,

they watched over deer and antelope,

glided in sturgeon-nosed canoes

through lakes and rivers; and

harvested roots and berries

provided by the Creator-Spirit.

The People of the Standing Arrow still

sit silently by the swinging bridge,

listening for the whispers of the ancestors

and the sacred stillness of God,

that they may faithfully bear

the standard of fealty forever.

 

Digging Stick

camas lily 1

Camas (quamash)

Camas (or quamash) field near Fairfield, Idaho

Camas (or quamash) field near Fairfield, Idaho

 

At Ne Logulko,

“the place standing of big pines,”

Kamama joins the women

for the quamash harvest.

Only a few weeks earlier

the entire prairie had burst

into an ocean of violet-blue.

Now, clutching her fire-hardened digging stick,

she lifts the soil beneath the withered

brown remains of a quamash

and brings up the fat tuber,

a special gift from the gods

to chase away hunger.

 

The grandmothers circle Kamama,

giving her strength and blessing her work.

 “Seek the guardian spirits,” they say,

as they line the roasting pit

with rocks, wet slough grass, and alder;

next, they add quamash roots

and layers of bark and earth.

“Never dig the quamash with man-smell on you,”

they chant, piling sticks on top of the oven

and lighting them with a burning ember.

 

Later, when the quamash is lifted

steaming and golden from the roasting pit

and fresh venison crackles over the fire,

the Coeur d’Alenes celebrate

with feasting and pony races.

The ancient ones tell stories of

Coyote and Crane and

Chief Child of the Yellow Root.

Her parents give gifts.

 

When the moon is high in the sky,

Kamama places the stick her grandfather carved

under the bearskin that warms her at night.

No warrior is allowed to touch it.

With dried quamash,

she will fill her children’s bellies,

barter for horses and beaver skins,

even pay her daughter’s dowry.

And when the Great Spirit sends for her,

the digging stick will mark her grave.

1 Camas.

Phalarope

Phalarope

Phalarope on the Camas Prairie in Idaho (May 2015)

Glide, slide,
rapier-billed beauty,
flaunt the chic “Z”
adorning your neck.

Spin, spin
cinnamon down,
ripple the water
from here to Peru.

Turn, turn,
ballerina bird,
conjure your prey
from the bowels of the earth.

Churn, churn,
cast a spell—
images of Patagonia
in your pirate eye.

Craters of the Moon

IMG_5908

As we exclaim over a perfect breadcrust bomb

and walk past lava balloons and rock popcorn,

skirt cinder cones and blocks rafted

into place by boiling lava,

as we marvel at blue dragon lava

glinting in the autumn sun

and carefully pick our way

across thin-crusted shelly pahoehoe (1),

we wonder why God created a wasteland

where fire and brimstone belched from the earth,

where verdant landscapes became vast tracks

of ropy, twisted, brittle rock,

where people come to gawk but not to live,

where kipukas (2) bespeak God’s promise of

“beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning”(3).


  1. pahoehoe: smooth, ropy, or billowy lava
  2. kipuka: islands of vegetation
  3. Isaiah 61:3

Mirage

ritter island water plants

On a perfectly sunny day

pelicans preen on a rock

and great blue herons

lift aloft their lanky bodies

as water cascades down

Minnie Miller Falls

into the Snake River.

Sweat trickles down our backs

as we ply our paddles

in the gently flowing water,

trying to avoid the undulating

hair of the water nymphs

whose outstretched arms

reach for our paddles

to pull us into an iridescent

underwater world

where they can shackle us with vines

and keep us as conversation pieces

in their subaquatic realm.

 

Can You See Me Now?

IMG_3814When I got up this morning I put on my cloak of invisibility: barely-60 face, short haircut, conservative skirt, t-shirt, no child at side. To complete my disguise, I jumped into my white Chevy Malibu and cruised down the street. Amazingly, I can go just about anywhere and not be remembered. I can walk around my town fully wholly incognito. At church, at the grocery store, on an airplane–I am the invisible woman.

Whereas I used to turn heads as I walked down the street or be the go-to person at church, now people stare right through me. At church, I might as well be a ghost. The 30 and 40-somethings look past me like I don’t exist. And the teenagers are worse: they actively avoid any eye contact or conversation. In the neighborhood, it’s pretty much the same story. No kids: no status.

It is a curiosity I never knew existed.  Why do people become invisible when their children move out? Do we purposely become invisible or is it some kind of cultural prank to pass over people older than 55? Is the rest of the culture trying to forget we exist—that pretty soon we’ll be sucking away all the reserves in the Social Security system and bleeding them dry to support Medicare? Or are we seen as irrelevant? Do not-yet-seniors sincerely believe that anyone born before 1962 cannot have a current thought or an interesting comment?

Do we middle agers need to throw tantrums to get noticed? No, we would just get committed to assisted living homes or sent to the psychiatrist.

Do we need to wear outrageous clothes? We are already accused of that.

Do we need to throw lavish parties? Dance in the street?

I discovered the secret to re-visibility in Sun Valley, Idaho:  get a dog and suddenly people notice you exist, or at least they notice your dog. Sun Valley is a place where there just might be a city ordinance requiring everyone to own a dog. I used to wonder if there was a connection between dogs and skiing, but now I think it is a connection between dogs and visibility. At the outdoor concerts in the summer, people spread out their picnics of canapés, caviar, and wine and the pampered poodle gets a Bow Wow Biscotti Dipidy Dawg treat. The next person over also has a dog so the two couples recount how they rescued their dogs from imminent death at the pound, spent all spring building a dog house complete with running water and a doggy monitor, and commiserate over the price of doggy daycare.

Since this discovery, I have been thinking about getting a sweet-natured golden retriever or a cute clever Papillon, but now I wonder if I really want to give up my inconspicuousness, which is starting to grow on me. After all, no one asks me to do the hard jobs at church, I can walk anonymously through my own neighborhood in the middle of the day, I can even go to a political rally and no one hits me up for a contribution.

Looking for Wildlife at Ritter Island

black widow

black widow

I hope to see a great blue heron

glide through the air like a pterodactyl

or glimpse a vixen and her nearly grown kits

skulking through milkweed skeletons.

If I am lucky, I’ll see a rainbow flash

as a trout snatches a damselfly.

I’m in thrall to the surrealness

of whitetail deer springing across a meadow

with their pogo stick legs

or a pretty little cottontail

sitting speechless by the trail.

But today, a shiny black widow

startles me as she surreptitiously spins

behind the toilet in the women’s lavatory.

Minidoka Relocation Site

Image

In a bleak forsaken place,

tumbleweeds gather

and derelict barracks

and bare cement foundations

bear witness that thousands

of Japanese Americans

slogged through the mud

and baked in the heat

of Hunt Camp.

 

Silence reigns, save the

chuck-chucking of irrigation sprinklers,

making it hard to imagine

cook pots clanking,

old women gossiping,

generators humming,

vehicle tires crunching,

children reciting the pledge of allegiance

in a place surrounded with barbwire

and guarded by reluctant G.I.’s.

 

13,000 people were forced

to leave homes and livelihoods

to live inside tarpaper buildings.

Whole families were crammed

into 20 by 20 foot rooms

in a then, never-silent place.

Through paper-thin walls

seeped sounds of whispered quarreling,

children calling out for parents,

a neighbor’s husband snoring,

mothers sobbing for their soldier sons.

 

Now, a riverhawk circles overhead,

searching the sagebrush for carrion.

Paint peels from reclaimed buildings,

and the sun beats down where

incarcerated Japanese,

citizens and immigrants,

choked during dust storms,

suffered relentless winter winds,

and designed oriental gardens,

sculpting beauty out of heartbreak.