I headed up the Rattlesnake Saturday because the story is the beargrass is blooming this year, and I figured I knew exactly where to find some. To my recollection it is the first time I ever went out into the woods specifically on the hunt for some kind of plant or flower. I found it, along with many other blooming, beautiful wildflowers. The smell in the largest concentrations of them was intoxicating. It was a perfect day outdoors; several hours of sunlight, shade, and the sounds and smells of the natural world. It is a kind of soul work, have no doubt.
As for beargrass, this is from the wonderful reference book Rocky Mountain Natural History: Grand Teton to Jasper by Daniel Mathews:
Once you’ve seen beargrass in bloom you will have no trouble ever recognizing its wonderful flower heads again. But the flowering schedule is erratic. You often see only the bunched leaves. Communities of beargrass may go for years without one bloom — and then hundreds bloom at once. That often happens for several years in a row after a fire that reduces the tree canopy but leaves the soil cool enough for the beargrass roots to survive and resprout. Like the century plant, beargrass clumps grow slowly, accumulating photosynthates for years before venturing a flowering stalk. Having flowered, the clump dies, but its nutrients are siphoned off through the rhizome to a new offset clump.
Spring’s tender leaf bases figure in bear diets, hence “beargrass’; but the neatly clipped leaf bases you see here and there are more likely the work of a “brushpicker” gathering foliage for the florist trade.
By summer the leaves are wiry and strong. Native Americans wove them into baskets and hats.
Mathews writes more, but you get the idea. Speaking of hats, it was the trial run of my new Filson hat, which I think is quite snappy. Here are some shots from the outing, including the initial, post-tag removal moments of me under my hat.
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Big tip of the hat/prayerful bow/you name it to my friend April for making me aware that the following was posted at the Poetry Foundation, which reminded me of this wonderful poem. It’s from Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), one of the most important books to have come into my life.
BY JIM HARRISON
The Saturday morning meadowlark
came in from high up
with her song gliding into tall grass
still singing. How I’d like
to glide around singing in the summer
then to go south to where I already was
and find fields full of meadowlarks
in winter. But when walking my dog
I want four legs to keep up with her
as she thunders down the hill at top speed
then belly flops into the deep pond.
Lark or dog I crave the impossible.
I’m just human. All too human.
I was nineteen and mentally
infirm when I saw the prophet Isaiah.
The hem of his robe was as wide
as the horizon and his trunk and face
were thousands of feet up in the air.
Maybe he appeared because I had read him
so much and opened too many ancient doors.
I was cooking my life in a cracked clay
pot that was leaking. I had found
secrets I didn’t deserve to know.
When the battle for the mind is finally
over it’s late June, green and raining.
A violent windstorm the night before
the solstice. The house creaked and yawned.
I thought the morning might bring a bald earth,
bald as a man’s bald head but not shiny.
But dawn was fine with a few downed trees,
the yellow rosebush splendidly intact.
The grass was all there dotted with Black
Angus cattle. The grass is indestructible
except to fire but now it’s too green to burn.
What did the cattle do in this storm?
They stood with their butts toward the wind,
erect Buddhists waiting for nothing in particular.
I was in bed cringing at gusts,
imagining the contents of earth all blowing
north and piled up where the wind stopped,
the pile sky-high. No one can climb it.
A gopher comes out of a hole as if nothing happened.
The sun should be a couple of million miles
closer today. It wouldn’t hurt anything
and anyway this cold rainy June is hard
on me and the nesting birds. My own nest
is stupidly uncomfortable, the chair
of many years. The old windows don’t keep
the weather out, the wet wind whipping
my hair. A very old robin drops dead
on the lawn, a first for me. Millions
of birds die but we never see it—they like
privacy in this holy, fatal moment or so
I think. We can’t tell each other when we die.
Others must carry the message to and fro.
“He’s gone,” they’ll say. While writing an average poem
destined to disappear among the millions of poems
written now by mortally average poets.
Solstice at the cabin deep in the forest.
The full moon shines in the river, there are pale
green northern lights. A huge thunderstorm
comes slowly from the west. Lightning strikes
a nearby tamarack bursting into flame.
I go into the cabin feeling unworthy.
At dawn the tree is still smoldering
in this place the gods touched earth.
From Song for the Blue Ocean, by Carl Safina:
Windy or not, a day this beautiful has to be lived. The day is bright and clear, the sky blue, and the dry air feels light. A northerly wind stirs a primal urge to move. The geese feel it, and so do I. Perhaps it is a last internal vestige from a time, long ago, when we migrated with the seasons across open plains, following the animals we pursued for food. Perhaps that is why the sight of migrating geese arrests our attention, why we feel the pull. We want to go, to travel in fresh or moody weather, taking in each newly revealed vista.
I’ve been writing these consistently, pencil on paper (I think I’ve only missed two weeks this year), but I’ve fallen behind in posting them. I’ll see if I can get caught up here, two weeks at a time.
- 04/09/2017: An upside to occasionally reviewing books for hire is that I may lounge around on a Sunday morning drinking coffee and still feel like I’m working.
- 04/10/2017: United screws the pooch again when it comes to handling a traveler, and it amuses me how people say they should have paid someone to take a different flight, as if, given the circumstances, money is the only way to motivate someone to stand in for a fellow clearly distraught.
- 04/11/2017: Parked at the river with a book, I was surprised at the high level of anxiety I felt for every person — among many on a sunny, if chilly, evening — who passed with their off-leash dog running amok … illegally of course, a circumstance I’m usually not overly concerned with.
- 04/12/2017: 5:20 AM, nearly 50° outside, with a near full moon glowing through tears in a thick bank of clouds hanging over the mountains.
- 04/13/2017: Bookstore event with John Gierach, a fantastic writer, that led to drinks afterward with a small group of friends, mostly new, in the legendary Missoula bar, Charlie B’s.
- 04/14/2017: Add Butte, America to the list of places I’d love to time travel to to witness it really jumping during its heyday.
- 04/15/2017: Sunshine, wind, randy birds, odd cloud formations, and grauple were all elements of a chilly and lovely Saturday that ended all too soon.
- 04/23/2017: Bottles, cans, and copious cigarette butts at the river signify the return of the ignorant philistine to my revered sauntering grounds.
- 04/24/2017: My age and gender often trick people into assuming I own the bookstore, especially when I am there alone … but I’ve been accused of far worse.
- 04/25/2017: The old cat grumbles and wheezes her way through a couple minutes at the kibble bowl in the hallway behind me, then shuffles back to her cushion, dragging my heart in her wake.
- 04/26/2017: Like a weekend extended with a long distance lover, the lingering spring days of clouds, rain, and occasional flashes of sunlight prolong the uplift of my spirit.
- 04/27/2017: On the bright side, I saw this year’s pair of great horned owlets for the first time tonight.
- 04/28/2017: A three-hour nap in the afternoon was a feat of accomplishment unprecedented in recent memory.
- 04/29/2017: I am an unabashed lover of the cold of winter, but I also enjoy these first warm days of spring that end with the glow of having spent an afternoon outdoors, soaking up the rays of the sun.
The first song is what a sunrise sounds like….