EARLY OUTINGS

how haunting, to retrace trails I hiked as a Boy Scout
remember flashes, a white frame church and graveyard
where we rested at the top of a hill before descending
to highway and then a swinging bridge
two nights we rolled out under stars
the first was nearly midnight in light snow
I’d never before seen the Milky Way
the next night sore, on a welcome bed of pine needles
the campground beside the lake too barren and
wind-blasted
was unfit for simple travelers
yet as we packed up the next morning and were leaving
just as rangers appeared and demanded a buck-fifty a head
(back when that was a lot of money – a steak dinner,
at least –
I was twelve . that day was overcast and dim
we missed the trail marker and heard later
it was filled with buckshot holes
wound up on a crushed-geode-covered road
the Corps of Engineers has long since submerged
snakes that had come out to sun on the pavement
pressed by the dozen into the dirt and limestone surface
we hiked several miles, then turned
into an abandoned hollow
where I saw my first deer in the wild
– a large buck and two does bounding away
soon we reentered the state forest
we’d hiked fifty miles in two days, and felt it
on another trip we spread out under a clear starry sky
a storm blew up, we rolled our gear and took shelter
in a small pavilion . slept on picnic tables,
despite the rangers
on the drive home, seeing splintered trees and
a toppled steeple
we learned a tornado had roared through
my birthday, and we stopped for lunch at a roadside diner
where I got a small burned steak for free
although I lived only a state away, and came back
for college and later, as an adult to live a year and a half
the experience was different
one stretch of highway I traveled daily
held a echo in my psyche, perhaps from a dream
until after a year I was certain I’d first seen it in moonlight
sunk in fog on that hiking foray from my adolescence

I don’t move as well now as I did then
the woods are flatter or less lively
I’ve since climbed the Appalachian Mountains
and viewed the Rockies from airplane and
Denver hotel windows
the trail markers have been improved
and some of the roads are paved now

returning to these observations three decades
after I’d recorded them, I realize how many details
I’ve forgotten, and how dimly recollected are others
American poets are actively engaged in preserving history
as it was lived through rapid change – a smell or a sound
the ways a family gathered, all that’s been lost

in the intervening years I gained a familiarity
with the Cascade Range and White Mountains
in addition to the New England seacoast
but these early experiences in Indiana forest
remain imprinted vividly on my soul

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Copyright 2015

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