Deer Drink The Moon: Poems of Oregon

Despite all appearances, I really haven’t given up reading poetry. True, I have been distracted. Birding and photography have taken up much more time than I would’ve ever imagined, becoming a major priority. I also took an online environmental course, which, in turn, led me to explore a biology textbook and a chemistry textbook on my iPad. And, as previously noted, I’ve been exploring TED courses in Happiness. I like to think these are all somehow related and their relationship will be revealed in the end, though it’s possible they are simply the result of my ADD personality, though I’d prefer to assume they’re the result of my INTP personality.

However, I have been reading the poetry anthology Deer Drink The Moon: Poems of Oregon since summer. It has been a while since I’ve read an anthology, and I suspect that’s one of the reasons it has taken me so long to get through the book. I forgot how much I dislike anthologies. As a college freshman required to take survey courses my grades often suffered because I would find one or two poets I really loved and go buy their books and read them instead of doing my coursework. I did much better when the course focused on one or two poets and I got to choose which ones I wanted to explore.

I originally bought the book because I’ve been rediscovering Oregon, particularly Eastern Oregon, through my birding trips. Editor Liz Nakazawa states in the preface that she “wanted to bring these poems together as a way to honor our state’s genius loci, or ‘spirit of place,’ with its unique blend of geographies and climates. “ I’m not sure I’d agree that all the poems in the book actually accomplish that (though it turns out one of my favorite poems in the collection doesn’t seem to focus on that at all). However, it is the ones that convey that sense of place that most appealed to me.

One of the main reasons I read anthologies is to discover new poets I want to read in more depth. There are a couple of poets that I thought might be worth exploring in the future, but the one I’ve already added to my Amazon Wish List is Floyd Skloot whose

Salmon River Estuary

Drifting close to shore, we enter the shadow
of Cascade Head. Our kayak jitters in an eddy
as we dip and lift the double-bladed paddles
to keep ourselves steady. Lit by morning sun,
current and rising tide collide before our eyes
in swirls of foam where the river becomes
the sea. Surf seethes across a crescent of sand.
Gone now the bald eagle’s scream as it leaves
a treetop aerie, the kingfisher’s woody rattle,
gull’s cackle, wind’s hiss through mossy brush.
Light flashing through sea mist forges a shaft
of color that arcs a moment toward the horizon
and is gone. Without speaking, moving together,
we power ourselves out of the calmer dark
and stroke hard for the water’s bright center
where the spring tide will carry us back upriver.

would probably be my favorite poem in the book. Kayaking was once a passion. Once I’d kayaked, I lost all interest in owning any other kind of boat. This poem captures the thrill of being one with the water. You feel the water almost as if you’re swimming. It’s a thrill to be part of a powerful river. Unfortunately, I never got good enough to feel comfortable kayaking on the ocean, but after reading this poem I bookmarked the Salmon River Estuary as a place I’d love to visit.

It turns out to also be an important sanctuary for birds, as the poem suggests. How could I not love a poem with the phrase “the kingfisher’s woody rattle.” I just wished I’d thought to describe it that way in one of my blog entries.

My favorite part of the poem, though, are the lines “we power ourselves out of the calmer dark/ and stroke hard for the water’s bright center.” That’s a literal description of what you would do when kayaking, but it’s also a succinct metaphor for the euphoric feeling you can get when you’re in the flow and everything is going perfectly on a kayaking outing, when you and nature are one.

5 thoughts on “Deer Drink The Moon: Poems of Oregon

  1. The poem is exquisite! I have wanted to kayak on the Salmon river in this exact spot and this description reminds me to make it happen next summer.

    When you make it to the area, plan enough time to hike out on Cascade Head – the views down the coast are stunning and there is rarely anyone else up there.

    1. If you get there first, send pictures and your reaction to being there.

      1. I have pictures of hiking Cascade Head already but the kayaking photos will be a few months form now!

  2. “we power ourselves out of the calmer dark/ and stroke hard for the water’s bright center.”

    That’s a beautiful line, and your illumination of it is striking. Thanks!

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