Given the current conflicts across this land and the earth, this timeless poem from the late John Haines conveys the words I have no voice for.
How strange to think of those street
sand vacant lots, the sandhills
where we played and dug our trenches;
the forts we built, the enemies
we conjured to aim our stick-guns at,
and then went home at evening,
to victory, to safety and sleep.
And now the vast acres of rubble,
the pitched and roofless houses,
upended stonework and sunken bridges.
The dog-packs roaming, digging,
for the one still-unclaimed victim;
the stray sniper aiming at dusk,
and in the roadside fields,
flowers that explode when picked.
The children wandering from one
burned suburb to another,
seeking that which no longer exists:
a neighborhood, a playing field,
a wading pool or a standing swing;
for a kite to fly, a ball to throw,
or just one pigeon to stone.
And through all this haunted vacancy,
from cellars and pits of sand,
come and go as on a fitful wind
such whispers, taunts and pleadings:
the scolding voices of dead parents,
the lessons of teachers no longer
standing, whose classrooms
are blown to ash and smoky air.
And far-off, unheard beyond the drone
of a single hovering aircraft –
in Paris, Zurich, Prague, or London,
the murmur of convening statesmen.
For the Century’s End
by John Haines
Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
A few years ago I wrote a story inspired by John Haines titled “A Walk in the Woods With John Haines”. As his words and thoughts continue to provide guidance over the years, I return to this piece and update the images and feelings to reflect the experiences that have defined me.
Returning from an Alaskan retreat, I am different.
Nothing earth shattering and most likely not noticeable to most people I come into contact with.
Back home, the sky has not changed, the trees stand tall against the summer blue, and the grass is coarse from overdue rain.
Obligations, bills, demands, job – waited at the front door for the week to pass and my return.
Emails arrive in the overflowing inbox and the phone still rings.
Lines form at registers waiting for morning coffee.
But something is different.
I left here in a chaotic state, doubts of the pathway I built and have stayed on, despite the uncertainty. I was clinging to the next day or week, hoping that it will be different from today, that if I just hold-out, the answers and next direction will reveal themselves. I had become complacent and stagnant.
How many years was I going to relinquish control of my path to outside forces with unknown names and unfamiliar faces?
Something is different now that my feet are on the ground here. What happened up there in the Alaskan wilderness?
I walk to the backyard and stand on the cement patio with coffee. The morning sun rays begin to touch treetops and the golden glow is stark against the deep blue sky. But I do not see this and I do not hear the ravens playing in the fields beyond the hill.
Lost in some thought I cannot place, my eyes close and I am back in Alaska with a river stretching to the base of distant mountains. I am flying above glaciers and standing so close I can taste the cold. I am riding an ATV through forest and open fields until I stand overlooking the river valley and and lose myself to the silence, the beauty, and the immense landscape.
That is what I see now that I am back home. Now that I have returned from an Alaskan retreat, the burdens I left here with have been replaced with nature, tangible things I can see, touch, smell, taste. Things that will my mind and push everything else out. In return for this gift, I am more silent, thinking before I speak, and keeping more calm and control of myself as I attempt to cope with the present and push for a different future that I create.
On 2017-08-08, we stepped out of comfort zones and took to the air for a flightseeing tour with Alaska Air Service, based in Anchorage, AK. Our pilot was Bill who is also the owner. We flew into the Chugach Mountains and were treated to awesome views of the Knik and Colony Glaciers. Also included was a gravel landing with a hike to get closer to the water, glacier, and icebergs.
Knik Glacier / Chugach Mountains Flightseeing Tour