Simon Ortiz’s Woven Stone

It’s been quite awhile since I blogged about poetry, though I have been reading intermittently. It’s just that I have several volumes partially read and won’t write about them until I’ve finished the entire work. But the rainy season seems to have finally set in giving me more time to read.

After my recent trip on the Columbia River it seemed appropriate that I finish Simon J Ortiz’s Woven Stone, a poet I discovered through reading Joan Halifax’s The Fruitful Darkness . Though I was unaware of his work, Ortiz is apparently a well-known Native American poet. I’ll have to admit that at times I found his Native-American “philosophizing” intrusive and I preferred his concrete, narrative poems where his beliefs were implied, rather than stated, even though I tended to identify with his beliefs.

His best poetry reminds me of Gary Snyder’s poetry. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have made this connection if I hadn’t gone back and read the introduction after I finished reading the poems ( I avoid introductions before finishing a work so I can draw my own conclusions before comparing them to others’ perceptions.)

Because I was pretty impressionable then, when I came across the writings of the Beat Generation, especially those of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, I was struck as if by a revelation. It was "experience" I noticed, the idea of experience, writing from and about experience, and writing as experience. Snyder's poetry particularly had aspects of Zen Buddhist philosophy I related to because they were similar in many ways to Native American spiritual knowledge and belief; reading the poetry and having in mind writing as experience, it was as if I'd know Buddhism all my life. And the revelation that was brought to light for me was that as an Acoma person I also had something important, unique, and special to say. I did not, however, express myself in writing immediately about it; then I recognized it and gladly shared a sense of comradeship and association with the philosophy, literature, and the poet.

Of course, it was precisely this similarity between “Zen Buddhist Philosophy” and “Native American spiritual knowledge and belief” that I admired in Halifax’s book. I’ve actually bookmarked a lot of poems in Ortiz’s book, but here’s one of the earliest ones I’ve admired:

BUCK NEZ

a birthday pup present for
me from friends; I was
taking him home for my son

Ten miles
the other side of Nageezi,
we stopped a mile south of the highway.

I built a fire big enough
to signal the gods.

You slept against my neck,
curled by my soul. Once,
I awoke to a tiny whimper,
and I worried
that I should feed you
when I had nothing to eat
myself.

It rained that night, and it got cold.
In the morning,
I woke up to find
a puppy, you, yapping
like the original life,
a whole mystery crying
for sustenance.

We prayed.

What I want is a full life
for my son,
for myself,
for my Mother,
the Earth.

What I most admire about the poem is the concrete narrative, concrete details that recreate a simple moment that reveals much about the narrator, probably climaxing with the lines “and I worried/ that I should feed you/when I had nothing to eat/ myself.” It's easy to like someone who puts a puppy's needs before his own.

Personally, though, I would have deleted everything after “ a whole mystery crying/for sustenance” because it undercuts the rest of the poem and seems to be implied in the phrases “like the original life” and “a whole mystery crying/for sustenance.”

A Foggy, Fall Morning

I’ve been so focused on special places lately that I’ve neglected almost all my local walks, though I’ve walked Belfair at least once a week except for the week I was in Nevada and California. It’s great exercise and even when the birding isn’t great it’s a pleasant walk that keeps me in touch with nature, in touch with the seasons.

On one of my recent walks the blackberries and shrubs were covered in spider webs

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bedewed by fog, a sure sign of Fall. You’re not likely to capture an award-winning wildlife shot in heavy fog, but few things are more enjoyable than a quiet walk in the fog.

Unless, of course, it’s fishing in the fog, listening to distant foghorns.

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I’m never quite sure whether it’s drought or Fall that causes leaves to lose their leaves and fall, but with all the rain we’ve had lately we can probably assume it’s the loss of light and cooler temperatures brought on by Fall that brought these changes.

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Although I’ve raised blackberries throughout much of my life, I’ve can’t remember ever seeing leaves with these striking colors

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If they’d been my blackberries, I would have picked off the dried-up leaves and got a closeup of one of those brilliant leaf clusters.

Although most of the bird pictures I took this morning were so far away that they looked like the Great Blue Heron shot, sometimes the fog helps to actually get closer to birds than you otherwise can. This Sharp-Shinned Hawk

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landed in branches a few feet away from me, something I doubt it would have done on a clear day.

Fall Colors on Mt. Rainier

Washington State isn’t known as “The Evergreen State” for nothing; most of our forests are made up of Firs, Cedars, or Pines, so we don’t experience the kind of colorful Fall season that states like Vermont do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience Fall colors with a little effort — and the best place to do so this time of year is in the mountains, as seen in this shot taken on our recent Rainier trip.

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Personally, I feel Fall colors stand when contrasted with our evergreens,

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even if the color comes from low-growing shrubs and not trees.

That’s not to say there are no deciduous trees, but they are few and far between since they can’t compete with evergreen forests for light. Here in the Pacific Northwest you’re more likely to see a Vine Maple

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than a Maple Tree, and more often than not it will reach out from underneath a fir.

Most of the color, though, comes from colorful shrubs like huckleberries or brilliant shrubs like this

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or this.

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I was sorry that we missed the meadow flowers this year, but the brilliant Fall leaves helped to assuage my disappointment, especially since my plans to visit Indian Heaven when the huckleberry plants were turning Fall colors fell also through due to rain.

Soon these leaves will all drop or be covered by snow, but hopefully their brilliant colors will serve as an amulet against the grey skies that have begun to envelop the Pacific Northwest, especially since this is supposed to be a long, wet winter.

Trailing Clouds of Glory

After I cut my trip short and missed a trip through Mt. Rainier on my return trip from Vancouver, I convinced Leslie to take a day off from work to tour Mt. Rainier since we hadn’t done so this summer and parts of it were already closing for the year. We usually start our round-the-mountain tour with Sunrise, but Leslie wanted to visit Chinook Pass since she hadn’t been there for years. I don’t think I’ve ever approached the mountain from that direction, so I got a new view of it:

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Truthfully, at first I didn’t think that could be Mt. Rainier at all. I can’t remember ever seeing it seem that small.

It was reassuring to see it in its fully majesty when we backtracked and drove up to Sunset, or at least to the major viewpoint leading to Sunrise.

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Of course, even this approach doesn’t make Rainier look as imposing as it does from the West Side, from Tacoma or Seattle, but it certainly looks more imposing the closer you get to the Sunrise Visitor’s Center.

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This shot was taken a short ways up the trail we usually walk

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where you can get an even better view of the mountain, but we didn’t have as much time as usual because we’d first driven up to Chinook Pass.

The weather on the top of Rainier can be dangerously variable, but on this day it seemed to be .

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trailing clouds of glory. It was never clear whether these clouds had just got hung up on the mountain or whether they were the result of evaporation from the glaciers themselves. There certainly weren’t any clouds to be seen anywhere else.

Though I suspect I would have appreciated these mountains even more after a day spent in the desert, it would be difficult to enjoy them more than I already do. Living in Seattle for much of my life, we always felt it was going to be a good day when we could see Rainier standing guard over us in the distance. It certainly is a good day when I can hike/drive around the mountain.

More Views of The Columbia Gorge

The Indian petroglyphs featured at Horsethief Butte are a relatively recent discovery for me, but these rocky cliffs seem forever,

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which perhaps explains why this Photoshopped version

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seems more “realistic,” as it were, than the first photo. More often than not when my dad visited us on weekends when I was a kid we hiked through cliffs like this to reach the Klickitat river. These rocky cliffs took on an even more mythic quality while listening to my mother’s Uncle Fred retell his life-long adventures ranching and fishing around Goldendale, especially stories featuring rattlesnakes.

Heck, if I hadn’t heard so many tales about timber rattlers as a child I might even have hiked up to the top of this rock pile

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to see if there was any explanation of the cross sitting atop of it.

Before I do that, though, I guess I should hike the trail to Horsethief Butte, something I would probably have done long ago

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if the hike description didn’t shout watch for POISON OAK and RATTLESNAKES. I’m not sure which of those two I’m more afraid of, though I suspect the greatest danger is actually the poison oak since I had some nasty cases of that as a kid and I’ve never had a snake bite, despite having seen quite a few of them.

In retrospect I should probably have turned left at Biggs junction instead of driving all the way to the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge because the only shot I got for my efforts was this one of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

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I’d actually hoped to get a shot of some of the old rock walls I’d seen on previous trips, but either they had finally fallen down or been removed by current residents, for there was none to be seen. I guess I could have taken shots of the vineyards that seem to have taken over this part of the Gorge, but vineyards are all too common today.

Still, if I hadn’t made the drive to Umatilla I would have missed this beautiful sunset.

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Even rain clouds can be beautiful given the right circumstances, I guess, though the threat of rain is what finally got me home a day earlier than I had planned.

Ancestral Home

It’s impossible for me to revisit the Columbia River without reliving the past. Although I only lived there for a year, from 4 to 5 years old, some of my oldest memories come from that period; most of what precedes that time is only a blur. Goldendale was also my maternal grandfather’s home; he lived on a ranch, broke horses, and drove cattle to market across the Columbia River. I attended my first rodeo there and can still remember seeing Brahma bull riders and Indians dressed in their best finery.

Although I wasn’t aware of it as a child, the area was an important one to the Indians and still is as the Yakima Indian Reservation has to be one of the largest in Washington State. Of course, it wasn’t until this trip that I learned how important salmon fishing was to the natives, that there was a wide-spread economy based on the trading of dried salmon.

Ironically, though, the Old-West memories on this trip were triggered by the sight of a Buffalo herd alongside the road even more so than seeing the Indian fish camps earlier.

Buffalo

I couldn’t resist stopping and getting a shot, even though I’m pretty sure that Buffalo were never native to this area, though they certainly seem better suited to the area than cattle. Weather in the eastern part of the Columbia Gorge is brutal, particularly in the winter when high winds and bitter cold often join together to make life difficult for those willing to live there.

After seeing the buffalo I decided it must be time to put on R. Carlos Nakai’s Canyon Trilogy. “Dawn's Mirage: Ancestral Home” seemed like an appropriate accompaniment to my journey.

I’m pretty sure that if Buffalo were indigenous here they would have shown up in the petroglyphs along with the goat, deer, and elk.

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Of course, that line of thinking would seem to indicate that salmon should also appear in the petroglyphs and they don’t, at least not in the ones I’ve had the privilege to view. Wonder why? It’s certainly an important part of Coastal Indian art.

Did I mention that I stopped again to see the petroglyphs at Horsethief Butte? Very hard to resist that temptation when you’re thinking about Columbia River Indians. I find these enigmatic figures irresistible and I seem to learn something new every time I study them. I’ve always thought the figures with “horns” were a demonic figure, but when a reporter suggested that there were owl figures, it just took one look at the feet to realize that he was probably right.

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However, this figure which has somewhat similar ears still looks demonic to me.

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What do you think? In reality it seems to be all speculation because there’s little consensus on how old the petroglyphs are, much less what the symbols represent.

Coincidentally, a little further up the river I stopped to see a “historic train” and discovered these local artists painting a mural using symbols taken from the petroglyph.

Mural

I thought that since they used the symbol in the upper right hand corner that they might know what it meant, but they didn’t, and since they were local artists who obviously respected the symbols I assume its meaning must be generally unknown

What I did learn from talking to the artists is that I have managed to miss the most famous petroglyph at the site, the one in the upper left hand corner. It’s located behind the area that has been roped off to prevent vandalism. It’s clear that I’m going to have to call and sign up for one of their scheduled walks in the restricted area next Spring, since there are none scheduled in the late fall and winter.

Always Take the Long Road Home

After two straight days of hiking up hill, I didn’t think I wanted to do another Columbia Gorge or Mt. Hood hike, but I didn’t see much reason to head straight home since Leslie was going to be gone for the weekend. So I decided to take the long way home and follow the Columbia River

BeaconRockColumbia

eastward to Umatilla and then head north. I spent the night at Beacon Rock State Park and headed out in the morning with designs of idling the day away taking pictures.

It didn’t take long to find a place to stop and get my first shot, the north side of Mt. Hood,

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quite a contrast to the shots taken the day before from the south side of the mountain. Of course, this is also a telephoto shot and only shows the top of the mountain. Still, it seems there’s more snow on the north side of the mountain than on the south side.

It’s hard to spend a day in the Gorge and not learn something new about it if you’re paying attention. This trip I noticed that the Indians had set up a traditional fishing platform, seen off the little green peninsula in the center right of the shot (as always, click to enlarge).

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Coincidentally, I stopped at a pullout near Celilo Falls, which, as it turns out, was one of the most important fishing and trading areas for local Indians and served as the center of a widespread trading network.

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Of course the falls disappeared in 1957 when the Dalles Dame was built. Here’s a video of Indians fishing from platforms similar to the one in the previous shot before the dam was built:

In this shot taken from a few miles up the road, looking back at Mt Hood towering over these arid, rocky cliffs you can actually see the bridge in the background of the previous video.

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At Maryhill’s Stonehenge, Mt. Hood finally disappears from sight when you reach the plateau above the Columbia.

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