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

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

  1. Nice to read your thoughts and shares again Jennifer! Merry Christmas!

  2. Jennifer, this is a wonderful post. Exquisite photos! William Stafford, one of my favorites!

    I’m looking forward to reading Part II–especially your poem.

    Oh, and thank you for the mention here.

    Blessings to you and your family, Andy

    • Thank you, Andy! I’ll pass along your comment about the photos to Mark. (He’s been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the little camera on his iPhone.)

      PaPoWriMo was a blast, wasn’t it? I’m still in amazement over the poems you wrote. “Ways of Remembering,” “Triage,” “Weather Report,” and “Notes on My Heart as an Exhibit” are some of my favorites!

  3. sonofwalt says:

    William Stafford and a post from Jennifer! I couldn’t be happier reading a blog post! So good to hear what you have been up to, lady. This poem by Stafford is one that was read a few months ago at one of our First Sunday services of poetry and music. George, the reader that morning, was talking about how William S. had been contracted by the Washington State park service to write several of these specific scenic poems. I’m so happy you shared this one!

    • You are so kind, Dave. I had a feeling you were already friends with this poem! Yes, Stafford’s Methow poems are a whole series, displayed on placards along the North Cascades Highway. I should post some links explaining that project!

      • sonofwalt says:

        I confess, I am an avowed Stafford groupie. 🙂 The photos your hubby took are lovely as well, by the way.

      • You know what? The moment I came across his poem on that placard, I knew I had to tell you. Next year, or whenever I get to do my pilgrimage to see the rest of Stafford’s Methow River Poems, I promise you pictures of every single one!

        Mark says thank you for the compliment on his photos!

      • sonofwalt says:

        Aw! You are just too danged sweet to me. But I love that about you. Thank you, Jennifer. I am honored.

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. […] I think, posted about finding this carved into stone in a park somewhere. Jenifer Bullis might know, as she has stumbled upon Stafford poems in the woods before, more specifically along the Methow River in Washington State where Stafford was commissioned by […]

  6. jlorman says:

    Very nice photos and essay, which I linked on Facebook and subtitled “She was walking along a beautiful trail, and suddenly a poem jumped out”. Very introspective and enlightening Stafford poem, interweaving nature and humanity’s interaction with it. I came across this poem researching Stafford’s Methow River poems. A very lovely river location indeed–wish we had some Staffordian poetry signs here in Oregon!

  7. susanissima says:

    Just discovering this post now, Jennifer. Beautiful narration, photos and, of course, Stafford’s poem in exquisite balance with the landscape, the season, your awe. Thank you.

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