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:


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,

15 comments on “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)

  1. Jennifer!

    Wonderful post, and wonderful photos!

    I love your poem. I am enjoying the image of you following in the footsteps of William Stafford. This seems like a pilgrimage of sorts.

    Blessings to you and your family, Andy

  2. jik says:

    hurrah for the poets!

  3. tsena says:

    such a beautiful trip: words and pictures!

  4. sonofwalt says:

    How did I miss this? Oh, it’s lovely, Jenifer!

  5. Carey Taylor says:

    Beautiful imagery in your poem Jennifer. I love the concept of art spawning more art..what a wonderful way to go in the world.

  6. very very WOWED right now xxx

  7. Simply lovely…making me long for my homeland—Wahington State.

    Blessed. Thank you.

    Stephanie Renée dos Santos

  8. jlorman says:

    Another great essay and photos, and the poem is wonderful, really bringing in the Staffordian resonance in the final stanza. Congrats!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s