John Daniel’s Common Ground

Somewhere in the past someone recommended or I read something that made me put John Daniel’s Common Ground on my Amazon wish list, and boy am I glad that I did. I read the whole 62 pages today, and ended up marking 11 poems that I really like, any one of which I could have cited as a poem well worth reading. Considering that both Denise Levertov and Wallace Stegner wrote recommendations for the book, I guess that’s not surprising.

Probably even more important, though, is that I share a common experience with Daniel, both having spent considerable time on both sides of Oregon’s Cascade mountains. Those experiences seem to have led us to very similar views of nature and man’s relationship to nature.

I was amazed that there was barely a single poem that I couldn’t identify with, a rarity even in those poets I most love. It’s impossible to show the many similarities without citing most of the book, but this poem


When the throaty calls of sandhill cranes
echo across the valley, when the rimrock flares
incandescent red, and the junipers
are flames of green on the shortgrass hills,

in that moment of last clear light
when the world seems ready to speak its name,
meet me in the field alongside the pond.
Without careers for once, without things to do,

without dreams or anger or the rattle of fears,
we’ll ask how it can be that we walk this ground
and know that we walk, alive in a world
that didn’t have to be beautiful, alive

in a world that doesn’t have to be.
With no answers, just ourselves and silence,
we’ll listen for the song that waits to be learned,
the song that moves through the passing light.

does as well as any single poem in the book of showing how similar our views are.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed by many moments like this where nature seemed to speak to me directly, both through wildlife and the sheer beauty of the setting. It’s these kinds of moments that make all the effort of backpacking into the wilderness worthwhile. When backpacking there is no career, there is nothing to do — other than prepare a few simple meals.

During those long meditative walks you learn as much about yourself as you do about nature’s magnificence. You begin to learn the “sound of nature,” the great AUM that underlies existence.