What Happened Here Before
First a sea: soft sands, muds, and marls
— loading, compressing, heating, crumpling,
crushing, recrystallizing, infiltrating,
several times lifted and submerged,
intruding molten granite magma
deep-cooled and speckling,
gold quartz fills the cracks—
sea-bed strata raised and folded,
granite far below.
warm quiet centuries of rains
(make dark red tropic soils)
wear down two miles of surface,
lay bare the veins and tumble heavy gold
slate and schist rock-riffles catch it –
volcanic ash floats down and dams the streams,
piles up the gold and gravel—
flowing north, two rivers joined,
to make a wide long lake.
and then it tilted and rivers fell apart
all running west
to cut the gorges of the Feather,
Bear, and Yuba.
Ponderosa pine, manzanita, black oak, mountain yew,
deer, coyote, bluejay, gray squirrel,
ground squirrel, fox, blacktail hare,
ringtail, bobcat, bear,
all came to live here.
And human people came with basket hats and nets
winter-houses and underground
yew bows painted green,
feasts and dances for the boys and girls
songs and stories in the smoky dark.
Then came the white man: tossed up trees and
boulders with big hoses,
going after that old gravel and the gold.
horses, apple-orchards, card-games,
pistol-shooting, churches, county jail.
We asked, who the land belongs to.
and where one pays tax.
(two gents who never used it twenty years,
and before them the widow
of the son of the man
who got him a patented deed
on a worked-out mining claim,)
laid hasty on the land that was deer and acorn
grounds of the Nisenan?
Branch of the Maidu?
(they never had a chance to speak, even,
(and who remembers the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.)
the land belongs to itself.
“no self in self: no self in things”
Turtle Island swims
in the ocean-sky swirl-void
biting its tail while the worlds go
& Mr. Tobiassen, a Cousin Jack,
assesses the county tax.
(the tax is our body-mind, guest at the banquet
Memorial and Annual, in honor
of sunlight grown heavy and tasty
while moving up food-chains
in search of a body with eyes and a fairly large
to look back at itself
we sit here near the diggings
in the forest, by our fire, and watch
the moon and planets and the shooting stars—
my sons ask, who are we?
drying apples picked from homestead trees
drying berries, curing meat,
shooting arrows at bales of straw.
military jets head northeast, roaring, every dawn.
my sons ask, who are they?
WE SHALL SEE
HOW TO BE
Bluejay screeches from a pine.
by Gary Snyder
from No Nature
Pantheon Books, 1992