Walking the Big Valley Ranch Trail, and a Poem in Response to William Stafford’s “Where We Are” (A Trip to the Methow Valley, Washington, Part 2)

Before I continue regaling you with my travel narrative, here’s some background on William Stafford’s Methow River poems. A whole series of them, originally commissioned as interpretive signs in 1992 by the forestry department, is posted along the North Cascades Highway between Washington Pass and the Columbia River. Over time, some of the placards were damaged by snowplows and road debris, but apparently several have been restored or are still in readable condition. (I myself have seen only the one by the footbridge, completely by accident. You can bet that next time, I’ll be making a pilgrimage to every single one!) You can see this list for the titles of Stafford’s Methow River Poems, and learn more about the story of the poem-placards here and here; the latter article also contains a map of the poems’ locations in the Methow Valley. As well, the poems were published together by Confluence Press in 1995, and collected in Even in Quiet Places by Confluence in 1996.

On the second day of our trip to the Methow Valley (or just “The Methow,” as locals call it), we explored a trail that runs parallel to the Methow Community Trail, but on the opposite side of the river. It’s mostly level and easily bikeable for our seven-year-old.

Big Valley Ranch Trail. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Big Valley Ranch Trail. See the little guy in green? That’s John, on his bike. Photo by Mark Kummer.

The trail, laid out in two loops totalling about 5 miles, winds along between hay fields to the north and river to the south. (If you squint hard, you can just make out the “Big Valley Trailhead” notation in the northwest quadrant of this map and the two green loops representing the trail.)

As I walked, I continued to marvel over the William Stafford poem we’d stumbled across farther up the trail the previous day. Stafford’s images in “Where We Are,” with its fog, rain, and light, were on repeat-play as I watched the rain clouds dance with the sunlight:

Tri-colored aspens. (This one's for you, Cupcake Murphy!) Photo by Mark Kummer.

Tri-colored aspens. (How do they DO that?) This one’s for you, Cupcake Murphy! Photo by Mark Kummer.

At the end of the second loop, we were able to get to the river itself. John’s favorite riverside game is to throw rocks into the water, but for the sake of the fish, I persuaded him to build rock cairns instead.

This many more salmon will live to see another day! Photo by Mark Kummer.

This many more salmon will live to see another day! Photo by Mark Kummer.

Mark’s favorite riverside game is to lie down on the rocks and snap pictures. Thank you, Mark!

Actually, Mark loves to fling rocks into the river too. But aren't you glad I convinced him to take this picture instead?

Actually, Mark loves to throw rocks into the water too. (That’s how John picked up the habit.) But aren’t you glad I convinced him to take this picture instead?

My favorite riverside game is to sit on the log next to the rock cairns and stare at the trees, at the water, at the stones, at the mountains… and, after a while, awake from my reverie and write poems about them. In this case, however, it took me until a few weeks later to get down the poem I’d wanted to write in response to William Stafford’s. Here’s how it goes:

CROSSING THE METHOW AT THE TAWLKS-FOSTER SUSPENSION BRIDGE

After William Stafford’s “Where We Are”

Daylight loves everything coming up this river
like the fog, like the slow reveal
of a poet’s seeing as he stands

on this swaying bridge suspended
over the swift channel of his imagining.
Walking this footpath so many years

behind him, I stand atop the bridge’s curve
and look downriver, the sun setting behind me
loving the wet sky violet.

An oxbow moon floats on the horizon
as gold cottonwoods shuffle their starlings
from one branch to another

and finally breathe them out over the river’s
mottled glow. Every bird’s flight
renews my eyes’ slow marveling,

like the rain locating boulders under its feet,
friendly, stepping and tapping
and greeting them one at a time.

 (By now, you pretty much know who's working the camera.)

Fossil? Inclusion? Can anybody tell us what’s going on with this rock? (And I assume you pretty much know by now who’s working the camera.)

Stay tuned for Part 3, in which I write about walking the Wolf Creek Road segment of the Methow Community Trail, following the footsteps of a deer.

Cheers, and more soon,
Jenifer

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An Accidental Encounter with a William Stafford Poem (A Trip to the Methow Valley, Washington, Part 1)

Where have I been the last couple of months? Well, I’ve been poeting–lots of poeting. Unreported poeting. You see, from the end of September through the end of October, I was engaging in a poem-a-day challenge that my writer friend and co-challenger, Andrew S. McBride, and I called Patchwork Poetry Writing Month–PaPoWriMo, for short. The “Patchwork” part derived from the fact that during October, I was hosting two sets of out-of-town family, planning a birthday party for my now seven-year-old, and traveling to eastern Washington. So we started the challenge early–backing up the start to September 24–to fit in 30 days of writing by the end of October.

My goal for PaPoWriMo was to produce enough new poems to complete a book-length manuscript of persona poems to submit to first-book contests with deadlines falling on October 31 and throughout November. I’m happy to report that I was able to write 18 new poems, and re-write more than a dozen older ones, to complete a manuscript of 46 poems in time to make those deadlines.

One of the happy interruptions to my PaPoWriMo challenge was a trip with my husband and son to the Methow (pronounced MET-how, with the “t” and the “h” pronounced separately) Valley for five days during the third week of October. This was the third autumn in the past four years that we’d gone there to relax, stare in amazement at the fall colors, and hike the numerous trails immediately outside of–and even connecting–the towns of Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp, WA, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. For Mark and me, the Methow Valley Community Trail (open to walkers, bikers, equestrians, and skiers, depending on the season) reminds us of the village-to-village foot travel we used to do in England and Scotland. For our son, the trail offers an opportunity to ride his little bike as fast as he wants without having to negotiate traffic.

Our first day’s walk led us to the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, an impressive footbridge spanning the Methow River on the Methow Valley Community Trail. We had explored this section of the trail last year, but it wasn’t until this trip that I noticed, just to the side of the trail on the south side of the bridge, a plaque displaying a poem by William Stafford! Since I could hardly believe my eyes, I asked Mark to take a picture of it:

At Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, Methow Valley Community Trail

William Stafford’s poem “Where We Are” at Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, Methow Valley Community Trail

Since it’s hard to read Stafford’s poem in the photo, here’s how it goes:

WHERE WE ARE, by William Stafford

 

Fog in the morning here
will make some of the world far away
and the near only a hint. But rain
will feel its blind progress along the valley,
tapping to convert one boulder at a time
into a glistening fact. Daylight will
love what came.
Whatever fits will be welcome, whatever
steps back in the fog will disappear
and hardly exist. You hear the river
saying a prayer for all that’s gone.

Far over the valley there is an island
for everything left; and our own island
will drift there too, unless we hold on,
unless we tap like this: “Friend,
are you there? Will you touch when
you pass, like the rain?”

This poem, which I’d never read before seeing it there on the plaque beside the Methow River, transfixed me, and still haunts me. The idea that one’s seeing calls the landscape into existence makes my hair stand on end, and the image “Daylight will / love what came” is deeply true for the east-of-the-mountains light that seems to bless whatever it touches in this place.

This extraordinary light, in fact, is one reason Mark brought his Nikon with us to the Methow Valley. However, that camera proved cumbersome on the trail, and he didn’t want it getting rained on, so he shot all of the following photos using his iPhone 4s:

Methow River, looking downstream from beside the Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Methow River, looking downstream from beside the Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Fall colors along the Methow Community Trail, just downstream from Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Fall colors along the Methow Community Trail, just downstream from Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

OMG aspens!  Photo by Mark Kummer.

OMG aspens! Photo by Mark Kummer.

Oh my heart. Aspen, alder, and cottonwood leaves on the Methow Valley Community Trail. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Aspen, alder, and cottonwood leaves on the Methow Valley Community Trail. O my heart. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Coming up in Part 2:  our walk along the Big Valley Ranch Trail and my poem responding to William Stafford’s “Where We Are.”

Cheers, and more soon!
Jennifer