A particularly happy kind of life March 6, 2014Posted by Jenny in Lifestyle, nature, poetry.
Tags: Gary Snyder, The North Coast, trail crew work, Zen Buddhism
I want to share a short poem by Gary Snyder.
THE NORTH COAST
Those picnics covered with sand
No money made them more gay
We passed over hills in the night
And walked along beaches by day.
Sage in the rain, or the sand
Spattered by new-falling rain.
That ocean was too cold to swim
But we did it again and again
I especially like the way there is no period at the end. That allows “again and again” to keep going onward into a cycle of happiness.
Think of the simplicity of this life. Think of all the things people think they need in their lives, and how those things are not present here.
This poem is more structured than most of Snyder’s work. It has a consistent three-beat pattern, and the second and fourth lines of the stanzas rhyme. Many of his poems play with blank space on the page, odd typography. You could say they are free-range poems.
At the age of 83, he can look back on an extraordinarily adventurous and interesting life. Grew up on a farm, worked on a trail crew in Yosemite, studied Zen Buddhism in Japan in the Fifties before Zen became part of the counterculture, worked in the engine room of a Pacific tanker, went to India with Allen Ginsberg, and on and on.
In his poems you find the shadows of junipers, men chopping wood, a typhoon in a bamboo grove, truckloads of hay, a roadhouse in Alaska, sky over endless mountains
Valley of the Duck Hawks March 2, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Alum Cave Creek, Big Duck Hawk, Little Duck Hawk, Little Duck Hawk ban
This was one of the strangest hikes I’ve done. Events of the day included a surprising but pleasant coincidence and… surveillance by helicopter!
The valley runs between the ridges of Little Duck Hawk and Big Duck Hawk. In the map below, it is the unnamed tributary of Alum Cave Creek that hits the Alum Cave trail between the letters “u” and “m” in “Alum.”
LDH and BDH are both classic routes for off-trail hikers, but LDH has been off-limits for many years. Park Service regs say the rationale is to protect the nesting habitat of duck hawks (peregrine falcons). I wouldn’t be surprised if safety is another rationale, since traversing the ridge involves an extremely exposed rock climb up and over a knife-edge that is just inches wide at its narrowest point. For going across the ridge, a whopping $20,000 fine is the threatened punishment.
In bygone years the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club went over LDH all the time, as well as BDH. I went back and forth across LDH a number of times before the route was banned.
At any rate, I had no intention of going over LDH, just climbing up the valley, following it where it bent to the northwest to hit BDH where it forms an open walkway below a steep slope.
So I set forth on a pleasant, warm Sunday morning. I figured my stream might flow under the Alum Cave trail through a culvert. I walked along slowly, looking at the terrain to my left, and spotted a culvert. It was embedded in one of the worst rhodo thickets imaginable, and I didn’t think the flow was large enough. So I went on, and suddenly a friendly voice said to me, “What are you up to today, Jenny?”
I snapped out of my trance and saw my old friend Dick Ketelle—longtime champion bushwhacker—carrying an overnight pack. He said he’d stayed up top trying to get some good pictures. I explained my strange quest, and he was one of the few people I could’ve run into who didn’t think I was nuts. He suggested that I start a little further up in an area of open woods I’d forgotten about. He accompanied me to the spot he was thinking and bade me good luck.
As expected, it soon gave way to rhodo. The boundary line was very distinct.
But soon I angled over to the streambed and found that the going wasn’t bad.
Like Styx Branch, this stream appeared and disappeared from time to time. There were slabs covered with moss, but the rock had edges good for footholds even where it was wet.
This whole hike was only half a mile long, though of course conditions were slow. I was about halfway up when I heard a voice calling loudly. It seemed too purposeful and too loud, and too far away, to be the usual babbling of tourists down on the trail. It seemed to be saying something like “Hey, where are you going?” And the person seemed to be yelling at me.
I was not exactly moving silently through the underbrush as I snapped twigs, trampled leaves, and wrestled past rhodo branches. But I can’t imagine that anyone was able to hear me that far away from the trail. The only thing I could figure out is that someone heard or saw me going into the brush and encountered a ranger afterwards, either by accident or searching one out.
And the ranger, if that’s who it was, must have been assuming I was headed for LDH.
I kept going, thinking perhaps I was mistaken about the whole thing. The brush got thicker, and I ran into a nasty patch of greenbrier.
I got up to about 4600′, not too far below where I’d make the climb up to BDH. I got my first glimpses of LDH.
And it was around this point that I heard the helicopter going back and forth overhead. Were they hoping to spot me on the spine of LDH? I will never know for sure. It does seem awfully suspicious.
I kept going for a bit. But then I started thinking. “What if someone’s waiting for me on the trail? They’d spot me as an obvious bushwhacker by my dirty clothes—if they don’t in fact have my photo on a wall of “Wanted Bushwhackers” at Sugarlands. Along with the other suspects, of course.”
My problem was, what if they defined the valley next to LDH as part of the banned area? What if this was the excuse they were looking for to go after Jenny Bennett, that notorious off-trail hiker? WHAT IF THEY FINED ME $20,000?
I turned around. When I got back down to the open woods, I brushed myself off as best I could and stepped quietly onto the trail. Nothing happened.
The two photos below are telescopic views of the two holes of LDH. Most of the time people see only the upper one.
Aurora Australis from space February 28, 2014Posted by Jenny in Meteorology, nature.
Tags: Aurora australis, Aurora borealis, Ballad of the Northern Lights, International Space Station, Robert Service
I came across these photos on Wikimedia Commons. They are copyright-free images. The one above was taken during a geomagnetic storm caused by a “coronal mass ejection from the sun,” May 24, 2010. The description reads:
Auroras happen when ions in the solar wind collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. The atoms are excited by these collisions, and they typically emit light as they return to their original energy level…. Auroras are a spectacular sign that our planet is electrically and magnetically connected to the Sun…. The pressure and magnetic energy of the solar plasma stretches and twists the magnetic field of Earth like rubber bands, particularly in the tail on the night side. This energizes the particles trapped in our magnetic field; that energy is released suddenly as the field lines snap the particles down the field lines toward the north and south magnetic poles. —Captions to photos written by the ISS Expedition 23 crew and Michael Carlowicz.
Poets have tried to capture the magic and mystery of the Northern and Southern Lights. It’s one of those topics that’s too dazzling to write about. The helpless poet is reduced to shopworn adjectives of grandiosity that fall far short of the subject. Herman Melville, for instance, wrote a clunker of a poem on the topic even though he was a great writer.
The description quoted from above included few lines from a poem by Robert Service titled “Ballad of the Northern Lights”: And the skies of the night were alive with light, with a throbbing, thrilling flame; Amber and rose and violet, opal and gold it came. It swept the sky like a giant scythe, it quivered back to a wedge; Argently bright, it cleft the night with a wavy golden edge.
That’s pretty good. The trick to the poem is that it’s about an exhausted, ruined man come back from the Alaska goldfields. He has no gold in his pockets, only the memory of the wavering gold of the Northern Lights. He and his two pals were “the discards of the pack,” and “the gold lust crazed us all.” He tells his story to a stranger as he waits outside a saloon, begging for a handout.
His bitter story gives a bite to his description of the wonders of the sky, and leaves me to think about how gazing at the sky can offer the deepest answers by way of the dazzling realities that dwell just over our heads.