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:


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

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


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.


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.


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



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


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.


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


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


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


or this.


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:


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.


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.


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


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 .


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.