In my introductory remarks at the William Stafford Tribute, I noted that Gary Snyder, Phil Whalen and Jack Kerouac spent summers in the Upper Skagit River Valley working for the US Forest Service as fire lookouts, and that Robert Sund lived most of his life in the lower valley. I don’t know how long William Stafford lingered in the valley; his footprint is mostly in the Methow River Valley on the eastern slope of the North Cascades.
Did I meet them? No. I moved with my parents to a primitive cabin on the banks of the Cascade River in 1935; lived there for a few months before moving to Rockport, then across the river. I left the upper valley after graduating from high school in 1951, before any of these men arrived.
I read the following at the tribute at Village Books in Fairhaven, Bellingham, WA, on January 17.
“I like to live in the sound of water,
in the feel of mountain air. A sharp
reminder hits me: this world still is alive;
it stretches out there shivering toward it own
creation, and I’m a part of it. …”
—William Stafford, Time for Serenity, Anyone?
Born in Ice
Born in ice melts and trickling creeks,
the Skagit rushes out of Canada
through gorges, faults, breached ice-age
moraines and magma,
grows in voice and spirit
as it flows to the Sound.
Raven, salmon, eagle and The-People-of-The-River
were one in word
before King-George-People and their books,
sought to make The-River their own.
The-River has borne evils
of 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 return The-Valley
to days before the world changed.
Skagit River, B.C.-WA
On April 28, 1996, I read “How This Eagle Came To Be” during the ceremony when an eagle carved in cedar was presented to the North Cascades National Park in memory of my mother’s friend, Marge Martin Emmons, a member of the Upper Skagit Tribe. It was dedicated in the North Cascades Interpretive Center, Newhalem, WA, a few hundred yards from her birthplace on the Skagit River. Born in July when twinflowers were blooming, she was a lifelong nurse, dying when winter’s darkness was leaving the valley.
How This Eagle Came To Be
for Marge Martin Emmons, Upper Skagit Tribe
July 21, 1914-April 22, 1995.
A long time ago—
The Skagit splashed on rocks where wild goats fed,
Eagles rested in cottonwoods by quiet waters.
All beings spoke one tongue.
First-People and animals lived in harmony.
One day, Creator came to this place—
Sun was smiling. Clouds were sleeping.
Wind was touching twinflowers, tasting berries.
An eaglet danced in her virgin feathers.
This eagle will soar over clouds,
Sing a caring song for all people,
Follow prophets to far mountains and rivers.
Gentle and wise, mindful of righteous paths,
She will see beyond horizons and tiny stones.
My spirit will be in her.
Then Creator said—
In the days when darkness leaves this valley,
When rain dances on the snow
And forget-me-nots are kissed by the dew,
This eagle will fly to her cedar tree,
To a totem crowned for eternity.
Her spirit will be forever free.
North Cascades Mountains
Never Been in a Canoe
Marcus hollers over a deafening river.
“We’re goin’ wid’out chuh.”
“Hurry up, chicken shit,” Frank yells!
Marcus, fourteen, staggers
to keep his footing in the canoe bow,
leans on the pole he thrust into shallows
until it bends, holding the canoe in place.
Frank, thirteen, in the stern,
teeters in a wobbly balance,
pushes his pole downward
to steady the cedar shell.
I wade into water slapping
my knees. Grab the gunnel.
I’m almost nine, never been in a canoe.
“’Not chicken shit,” I whimper.
I glance at the river—
an uprooted cottonwood is diving,
rolling in the current,
coming right at us.
I look down. Shiver.
“It’s not yours! You
dragged it out of the brush.”
“Damn it, chicken shit.
Upper Skagit River
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 rhubarb leaves.
If it stops, Dad will call me
to the pasture to auger holes
for hand-split posts replacing
those homesteaders planted,
now rotted in the ground,
no longer defending hay meadows
with rusting, sagging, barbed wire.
South side of the Skagit River