Category Archives: Point-of-View

Magi of the Meadow

Between May 1987 and May 2003, my wife and I gardened a “Birchwood Acre” about 3 miles north of downtown Bellingham, WA. In the late 1990’s, I strung lights on three trees growing in the corner of our mini-meadow for the holidays. Whence came this poem.

        Magi of the Meadow
    
In a far corner of our meadow

behind the wild roses,

Magi emerge in predawn light,

bearing gifts of resin gum,

oil, and sweet incense.

 
      
Leading in columnar splendor,
    
with branches erect, an incense cedar

bears sweetness in leaves and fiber.

           Blue spruce, with gum and spring honey
    hidden in a bristly cloak defying touch,
    advances on the right.

 
    Western cedar, crossed boughs
    
in gentle grace, spreads oil
    
and fragrance on the meadow trail.

 
    Preceded by a melody slipping
    on the breeze as a misty rain,
    in their habits adorned
    from crown to sweeping skirt,

    a thousand jewels in the dawn.

                Bellingham, WA


Summer Shower

          
Which form works best: lined or prose?


  
Summer Shower

I lay here in the semi-light of our cabin’s loft,

dreaming to the rhythm of a summer shower

raining on moss-chinked cedar shakes,

collecting in rivulets coursing the pitch,

dropping softly on June roses,

drumming elephantine rhubarb.


If it stops, Dad will call me
to the pasture
to auger holes
for hand-split posts to
replace
those homesteaders planted,

now rotted in the ground,

no longer defending hay meadows

with rusting, sagging, barbed wire.

             South side of the Skagit River

                      Rockport, WA

Summer Shower

I lay here in the semi-light of our cabin’s loft, dreaming to the rhythm of a summer shower raining on moss-chinked cedar shakes, collecting in rivulets coursing the pitch, dropping softly on June roses, drumming elephantine rhubarb.

If it stops, Dad will call me to the pasture to auger holes for hand-split posts replacing those homesteaders planted, now rotted to the ground, no longer defending the hay meadows with rusting, sagging barbed wire.
                                                                               South side of Skagit River
                                                                                             Rockport, WA

Midstream (Chapbook)


Midstream
on the upper Skagit River, a Wild and Scenic River

Richard Lee “Dick” Harris

You surmised correctly. I am a poet of place, grounded in the Upper Skagit River Valley in the Cascade Mountains of Northwest Washington State who appreciates the grandeur of nature. I did enjoy fishing and owned a boat—an aluminum canoe with a quarter-horse electric trolling motor. Two years at Boy Scout camp and still I could only swim a few strokes. The boys who taunted me pulled me from a river backwater as I was drowning.

As you interact with my words you will learn that my growing up in log cabins without electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water, in an isolated culture of backwoods loggers and Native Americans in the Upper Skagit River Valley shaped my perceptions and language; and from this valley, I wandered through much of the world observing the significance and uniqueness of ordinary experiences, their relationship to the natural world, and clash of cultures.

******

Born in ice melts and trickling creeks, the Skagit River rushes through gorges, faults, breached ice age moraines and magma, growing in voice and spirit as it flows to the Sound. Raven, salmon, eagles and The-People-of-The-River were one in word and spirit before Chechacos, King-George-People, and their books, sought to make The-River their own.

With magnanimity, The-River has borne the evils of their ditches, dikes, and dams. When leaves rustle golden, it calls Wind-Spirit and Rain-Spirit to return Valley-Spirit; and when creeks quicken and fawns drop, it calls Shaman Spirit to awaken from dreaming-sleep and restore the The-Valley to days before the world changed.

******

In the season of advent, in the days of long nights, storms sweep our valley with moisture laden clouds streaming fog and mist over sandbars and sloughs and lifting their disgorged masses over the North Cascades. Eroded windfalls and flotsam careen and crash in the river’s turbulence. Leafless cottonwoods and shallow-rooted hemlocks torn from saturated earth and duff-laden sponge dive and bob in undulating arrhythmia. Roots skeletonized into filigreed tendrils spew frothy wakes of dirt and rocks.

These storms happened when The-People-of-the-River spoke many tongues and the river ran both ways. And, they will happen again.

******         

 

This River Sings


Snow, avalanche, and scree;

creeks, ponds, and seeps,

collect in reverberating rush,

cascade in mountain pools,

eddies glazed undercurrents.

 

Mosquitoes and deerflies,

humorless protein,

psalmic multitudes,

survive winter’s minus.

Spring, tempered and wet,

its creeks quicken and swirl.

Tawny duff and flecks of sun

conceal newly dropped fawns.

 

Eagle, salmon, and raven

sing this river’s song—

sing as it flows—

            dammed,

        tunneled,

               diverted!


This river sings as it

sprays cool mist,

splashes rocks with

syncopated rim-shots.


Cottonwoods rustle in tenor,

maples in baritone,

as softly this river sings

through mist and fog.

 

Softly, its spirits sing


of a mountain’s ashes

rising in evening drafts.

 

Wild and free, this river sings.

******

Chak-Chak, the Skagit Bald Eagle


Perched in an old-growth forest,

Chak-Chak rouses. In morning light,

Scans the river with piercing eyes,

Searches sandy bars for dying chum.


Chak-Chak
breaks silence,

Soars from Sauk Mountain,

Drifts Washington Eddy;

Glides the river’s course.


Chak-Chak
skims shimmering water,

Clutches a floundering salmon,

Settles on a backwash beach,

Feeds on his catch.


Perched in barren cottonwoods,

On the south bank where the wild Skagit bends,

Chak-Chak, in stoic dignity,

Basks in warm afternoon sun.


Chak-Chak
calls his mate.

Wings extended, talons interlocked

In descending flight, they tumble,

Somersaulting earthward, breaking skyward.


Before evening shadows deepen,

Purple hues of dusk chase the day.

Chak-Chak catches an ascending draft

To his nightly roost—and slips away.

******



Insensitive that I can’t swim

or my parents’ orders,

my peers taunt me,

“Damn it, chicken shit.

Get in!”

With adolescent derring-do,

they defy undercurrents

to swim eddies.

I look down in humility,

count pebbles in the gravel

and dream of elsewhere.

******



I drive into the North Cascades
following scenic Skagit River past civilization’s blight to celebrate its wildness. I gaze in awe this fleeting moment at snowy ridges and glacial slopes, alpine lakes and hanging valleys, traces of ice from eons ago. I see barren hills stripped of hemlock, cedar and fir, dammed rivers, meadows without life, mountains raped for gold.

Others, too, have seen this blind greed and wanton scarring, destroying the spirit of this beloved land.

******

 Eagle Feathers and Rainbow

Looking at you now, Imogene, in your
cradle of lasting years, I see you in
our picture on the steps of Rockport School,
two rooms at the foot of your family’s

sacred mountain by the river of your
tribe, so many years ago. You are
the pumpkin-faced first grader wearing
a simple wash-dress in the first row,

                                                                                  

so sober under your freshly combed hair

and new barrette, Imogene. I’m a second-

grader behind you, all frowns and ears sticking

out, my hair slicked-down. I loved your name,


Imogene … Imogene. You see,

I still sing it. In minutes now, elders

will carry you away, to lower you

into an earthly bed under boughs of


cedar and snow on your sacred

mountain. As darkness hovers, Imogene,

your spirit will rise, an eagle passing

through a rainbow above the river.

******



Quelcid, Native American elder, teaches us to make
walking sticks.  She beats her deerskin drum and sings: Pick a devil’s club, peeled andcured, that fits your stature.  Bone it with a table knife, as my ancestors boned it with a deer’s shoulder blade.  Wrap the grip with rawhide.  Hang on it amulets of rosehips and beads.

To touch diabolical “devil’s
clubs,” Oplopanax horridum causes me to shudder.  With each stroke of the table knife, I remember horse-logging with Dad and my brother Jim on the back of our place.  I remember “swamping out” trails through devil’s club and vine maple before each tree was felled, and whacking out horse trails to drag the logs out to the truck.

I remember Jim bending the green stem, then letting go as I swung my ax. Up it would spring, slapping thorns into each of us, driving them through our worn-out gloves. Always, as we were pulling thorns out of our hands, dad and the team would show up, impatient and disgusted at his teenage helpers.From Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound, indigenous people have for centuries, burnt, carved, ground, mixed, painted, plastered, rubbed, steamed, tattooed, and infused roots, stems, inner bark, and berries of this genus of ginseng, sometimes with thistles, black hawthorn, prince’s pine, cascara, and bear grease, for medicine, magic, and fishing lures.

 And now to the beat of her drum, Quelcid sings: Take your walking stick.  Go quietly through shadowy thickets to the river’s edge.  Listen for its inner spirit speaking to a shaman, his face painted with bear grease and ash.  Evil spirits know its magic, they will sneak away.

******

Decades later, a thousand miles north, I walk along a River Road and the tidelands as the Chilkat River melds into Lynn Canal and the afternoon shadows of the Chilkat Range. I stroll past dandelions in multiple bouquets and remnants of snow in the off ditch decorated with florescent swamp lanterns, my winter coat over my shoulder.

Lunch is freshly caught trout and newly picked beach greens; dessert, spring’s first rhubarb.

Politics are with the crew at the Main Street intersection where the temperature is 57 degrees, Fahrenheit, filling chuckholes and replacing collapsing sewers. God is in the pantheist totem on the path between Mountain Market and the town library celebrating “where they go to learn by themselves.”

Only the eagle sees beyond the glaciers.

******




Endnotes

Skagit is pronounced SKAJ-it.

“Cheechako paddling shovel-nosed canoe, midstream Skagit River near Rockport ferry crossing” (Cover photo, circa 1920, from family collection).

Cheechako is Chinook Jargon combining Lower Chinook “right away” and Nootka “come” into “new comer.”

Born in ice melts and trickling ….” See “When the River Ran Both Ways,” Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009, (2010).

In the season of advent, in the days of long nights ….” See “Signs of Winter,” Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009, (2010).

“This River Sings” came to mind while I was sitting on the banks of the Skagit River at Rockport waiting for the celebration of life for my brother Marvin L. “Jim” Harris, 1937-2009, to begin. Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010); Phrasings In Word and Dance 2010 (spoken and dance); Chuckanut Sandstone Review, 2010; www.skagitriverjournal.com.

 “Chak-Chak, The Skagit Bald Eagle.” See backstory, Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010); p. 20, Concrete Herald, May 2010. Pencil sketch by Helen Harris.

“Eagle Feathers and Rainbow” is dedicated to Imogene Washington Bowen, 1935-2007, elder, Upper Skagit Tribe. Imogene is pronounced ΄Īm-ŭ-‘jēn. Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010).

“Quelcid, Native American elder, ….” Photo by Helen Harris.

“Decades later, a thousand miles north, ….” “Chilkat Range in the Morning” photo by RLH.

Collins, June McCormick. Valley of the Spirits: The Upper Skagit Indians of Western Washington (1974).

Hilbert, Vi, Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound. (1985).

Midstream was drafted in Generating & Editing Poems for Publication, an Iowa Summer Writing Festival workshop, June 9-15, 2012, led by Richard Jackson, UT Chattanooga.

Bedtime reading

    My bedtime reading has always been kind of a ritual. Currently, I read a poem, if it is a page or shorter, followed by a couple pages of prose. That is, if I don’t fall asleep first. Right now I am rereading William Stafford’s ‘Even in Quiet Places,’ poems collected from several chapbooks that his son Kim and several associates made after Stafford’s death. I’m particularly attracted to ‘The Methow River Poems.’ For prose, I’m rereading ‘In Pharaoh’s Army,’ Tobias Wolff’s memoir of the Viet Nam War.
    Both of these writers share my valley, the Upper Skagit, with me. Stafford wrote some of his last poems at the request of two forest rangers as he traveled over the North Cascade Highway; and Wolff is an alumnus of my high school, Concrete HS. Two cautions: He came about 20 years after me and ‘This Boy’s Life’ is a highly imaginative memoir and the movie even more so.
    What is on your bed stand?

Remembering D-Day, June 6, 1944

June 6, 1994. It’s almost 10:00 a.m. I’m having my morning coffee in La Patisserie, a little French and Vietnamese bakery-restaurant about four blocks from home. I’m the only customer, typical for this time on Monday morning.
    
It is quiet at the intersection of Lynn and Northwest. One or two cars pass through every other light change. Three are wandering around the boats in front of Yeager’s Sporting Goods across the street, waiting for the doors to open.
    Although the street is dry, I drove my ’76 Chevy pickup instead of riding my bicycle. Those storm clouds boiling up in the southwest are threatening.
    
Phan, always polite, always ready to smile, just handed me a freshly baked raspberry cream cheese Danish. As is her habit, she waited for her first customer before turning on the coffeemaker. We exchange a few remarks about the weather and this being Monday morning. I hand her two dollars. She gives me thirty cents change and continues spraying the glass tabletops with Windex© and wiping them with crumpled pages from yesterday’s newspaper.
    
I place my Danish on Table #6, “my spot” near the window, and go to the service counter for a spoon, fork, napkin, and a couple creamers. By now, the coffee is ready. I pour a cup.
    
There’s nothing visible on the street noting the significance of this day, a pensive one for me.
    
My thoughts have skipped between this day, fifty years ago, and the televised commemorations held on the Normandy beaches in France, 4800 miles away. My reverie is deepened by the subdued and plaintive background music coming over the speakers: “I’ll Walk Alone,” “Till Then,” “When the Boys Come Home,” interspersed with Glen Miller and Duke Ellington renditions.

    I flash back to that morning on June 6, 1944. I’m ten years old. School had been out less than a week. I’m sitting in the cab of Dad’s 1927 Chevy flatbed truck on the ferry, crossing the Skagit River. We are on our way to Grant Nelles’ blacksmith shop, west of Concrete.
    
I didn’t expect to cross the river until the middle of the month. Normally, I’d be in a hayfield walking along the newly mown swathes, shaking loose the heavy bunches of green hay with a three-tine pitch fork so they could dry more quickly. The mower broke down before Dad could start cutting. 
    
Dad said he’d take us to the Strawberry Festival and to see Grandma Harris in Burlington, if the hay is shocked, if he can get our 1930 Reo Flying Cloud to run, if he has any leftover gasoline ration stamps, and if the river isn’t flooding. He’d have to draw some money from the Mitchell Brothers, the “gypo” loggers for whom he was working. That is, if they’d been paid for their latest shipment of logs. (Smalltime loggers were probably called  “gypos” because they moved from site to site, frequently logging areas too small to be worthwhile for larger companies.)
    When I asked Dad if I could go, I was surprised that he said, “Get in.” Loretta and Jim knew better than to ask. They’re too young and Dad would be busy helping the blacksmith and swapping stories with others waiting to repair busted-down equipment. Besides, Mom didn’t want them running around the hot forges with their flying sparks and getting in the way.
    
Dad always repaired our farm equipment himself. He would rummage through the pile of parts and pieces in “the old milk house” or scavenger from some derelict machine rusting in the blackberry vines and nettles in the back of one the neighbors’ fields until he found what he needed. If the part were wooden, he would carve a new one from a vine maple sapling he’d cut from the brush growing behind the barn. This time, he couldn’t find a part to fit the old relic of a mower that had been around since it was freighted up the river in a canoe in the 1880’s when the place was homesteaded. His only remedy was to weld the part back together. This meant a trip to the only blacksmith shop upriver.Seldom did the sun shine long enough this early in June to dry the fields enough so Dad can cut, rake, and shock the hay before the next storm soaks it and rot begins.
    
Not only does he lose haying weather with these breakdowns, he loses a valuable day of unpaid vacation time. Also, each repair usually takes the last money in the house, and burns up precious gasoline.
    
Frank Tom, the operator, had just dropped the ferry apron at the edge of the river where the road sloped down to the landing on the Rockport side, and Dad is starting the truck engine, when a neighbor literally skipped through the shallow water and onto the ferry. He sticks his head though the hole in the door on Dad’s side where the window used to be. “Did ya’ hear?” he blurts out. “They landed in France!”
    
“They did?” Dad responds, as much in surprise as disbelief.
“Yaah! They got those krauts on the run.” (Kraut is a derogatory term that everyone I knew called Germans, especially German soldiers.)
    
“Well, it’ll soon be over,” Dad says, as he steps on the clutch and slowly shifts into first gear. It is good news, but his mind is on the broken mower and the time he is losing.
    
I didn’t say anything. After all, I was just going into the sixth grade. And, I’m not so sure that the Germans will be quickly defeated. I’d been following war as closely as I could until the battery packs on our radio ran out, a couple weeks ago. Mrs. Baughman, our teacher at Rockport School, had let a couple of us read her newspaper when our lessons were done. Even if the Germans are defeated, the war with the Japanese in the Pacific had to be won.
    
The engine whines as the old truck creeps off the ferry and inches up the incline, over the railroad tracks, and onto State Route 20 near the Rockport Hotel. It is an hour’s drive over Rockport Hill and winding down the valley to the blacksmith shop.

    My second cup of coffee is gone. It’s time to leave a tip, climb into my old Chevy pickup, and go home. Maybe the rain will hold off long enough to mow some lawn.
***
(Here’s a couple pages from Upriver Images, my mixed genre memoir. Let me know if the POV works, or has inconsitencies. Please, no ‘junk’ or pseudo-messages designed to link your website advertising your product. I WILL NOT APPROVE!)