Thursday Poem

Elk Trails

Ancient, world-old Elk paths
Narrow, dusty Elk paths
Wide-trampled, muddy,
Aimless . . . wandering . . .
Everchanging Elk paths.

I have walked you, ancient trails,
Along the narrow rocky ridges
High above the mountains that
Make up your world:
Looking down on giant trees, silent
In the purple shadows of ravines—
Above the spire-like alpine fir
Above the high, steep-slanting meadows
Where sun-softened snowfields share the earth
With flowers

I have followed narrow twisting ridges,
Sharp-topped and jagged ass a broken crosscut saw
Across the roof of all the Elk-world
On one ancient wandering trail,
Cutting crazily over rocks and dust and snow—
Gently slanting through high meadows,
Rich with scent of Lupine,
Rich with smell of Elk-dung,
Rich with scent of short-lived
Dainty alpine flowers.
And from the ridgetops I have followed you
Down through heather fields, through timber,
Downward winding to the hoof-churned shore of
One tiny blue-green mountain lake
Untouched by lips of men.

Ancient, wandering trails
Cut and edged by centuries of cloven hooves
Passing from one pasture to another—
Route and destination seeming aimless, but
Charted by the sharp-tempered guardian of creatures,
Instinct. A God coarse-haired, steel muscled,
Thin-flanked and musky. Used to sleeping lonely
In the snow, or napping in the mountain grasses
On warm summer afternoons, high in the meadows.
And their God laughs low and often
At the man-made trails,
Precise-cut babies of the mountains
Ignorant of the fine, high-soaring ridges
And the slanting grassy meadows
Hanging over space—
Trails that follow streams and valleys
In well-marked switchbacks through the trees,
Newcomers to the Elk World.

(High above, the Elk walk in the evening
From one pasture to another
Scrambling on the rock and snow
While their ancient, wandering
Aimless trails
And their ancient, coarse-haired,
Thin-flanked God
Laugh in silent wind-like chuckles
At man, and all his trails.)

………… Mt. St. Helens Lake

by Gary Snyder
from Left Out in the Rain
North Point Press, 1986