Of Poetry, Hiking Trails and Spring

A lovely bonus of our hikes out west are the unexpected conversations that come our way. Readers of this column may remember the conversation Martin and I had with a fellow hiker and his sudden revelation of his wife’s recent death. More common are the less intense where-are-you-from? exchanges or the serendipitous six degrees of separation chats that inevitably reveal a connection.

Hiking West Fork late last month, a friend and I were discussing books we had loved as children. I mentioned a favorite and began quoting to her a poem  from Carmen Bernos de Gasztold’s Prayers from the Ark. It is a stunning book of poems voiced from the perspective of Noah’s menagerie. The edition my mother gave me when I was a child has an introduction by Rumer Godden, the book’s illustrator who was fortunate enough to meet the author, a Frenchwoman who became a Carmelite nun toward the end of her life. Trying to recall The Prayer of the Monkey, I recited what I could from memory, “Oh God, why did You give me a face so comical that no one will take me seriously?”

One of the two hikers coming our way overheard me and seamlessly joined our conversation.  “Oh, man,” he replied, “I would take you very seriously! I would never mess with you!” Well, at that point, I had to stop and give the backstory. He wrote down the title (Ha! Wrote down. He took out his cell phone and started tapping.) His friend asked if we’d read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. (Out came our cell phones.) We talked a few minutes more about books and then parted. My friend and I marveled at the cool exchanges that are just a natural part of our hiking experiences. It’s one of the magical things I miss now that we are home and there is concrete, not red earth, beneath my shoes once again.

But yesterday, I was rewarded with a trail exchange. It was a glorious spring day — blue skies, white puffy clouds, the trees just greening up in a way that would inspire me, once upon a time, to recite to the kids Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. A woman was coming out of the bank as I entered.  Our eyes met and then our spirits.  

“Isn’t this a glorious day!” she exclaimed. “It’s simply beautiful.”  

I agreed and mentioned that it was the kind of day  that called me to share a poem with my kids. Taking the kind of chance that is no chance on the trails, but de rigeur, I asked “May I share the poem with you?” She smiled her assent and I began, “Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold…”

After the recitation she agreed and said at this time in spring she looks at the leaf packets with such happy anticipation.

“Leaf packets!” I said. “What a wonderful phrase!”  

“Yes,” she replied. “That’s how they always seemed to me, these little packets of beautiful green just waiting to burst open.” I thanked her for the phrase; she thanked me for the poem and we went our separate ways on the day’s trail.

Magic can happen anywhere, even in a bank parking lot, if you stay open to its shimmer and share a bit of your own sparkle dust along the way.

Prayers from the Ark (This looks to be the edition my mother gave me.)
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Dandelion Wine

The “boulders” in the foreground are actually the reflection of the canyon walls above.

This is a shot from the West Fork hike. What you are actually looking at is the canyon wall reflected in just six inches of water along the edge of Oak Creek. The reflection was so perfect, so mirror-like that when I approached, the fight-or-flight center of  my brain took over and slowed my steps, so convinced it was that I was at the edge of a precipice and just inches from cascading into the canyon itself. The brain bamboozlement between my eyes and my limbic brain was a hoot. 



The Prayer of the Monkey
Dear God,
why have You made me so ugly?
With this ridiculous face,
grimaces seem asked for!
Shall I always be the clown of Your creation?
Oh,who will lift this melancholy from my heart?
Could You not, one day,
let someone take me seriously,

7 Enlightened Replies

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  1. I love this! I’m a person who’s grown weary of superficial chitchat, and appreciate conversations of depth more than ever. And I’ve read and loved Dandelion Wine!

  2. I also wanted to add that I appreciated your mention of the Robert Frost poem. Lately people have been coming back to poetry, talking about it more on the radio and in social conversation, which gives me hope and makes me happy!

  3. Manny Kalef says:

    It’s good to see that your vacation has done nothing to diminish your creative spirit or talent.
    You do find the most interesting experiences. Thank you.

  4. Beth S Greenapple says:

    I treasured the book PRAYERS FROM THE ARK! I discovered it as a young adult—just twenty something—and wondered at its imagery. I still own it (not terribly surprising, I know).

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