The Great Divide

for Bev

In our first river west
of the great divide
in that swift current
I remember the water ouzel
appearing & disappearing

the gay couple standing
outside their camper
who mimed its comic
curtsying on shore

the way my brother
described it walking
among the rounded
stones on the bottom
or flying underwater
wings like oars because
its feet were unwebbed

& after it surfaced
inaudible over the roar of rapids
I remember watching
its beak move & wondering
what that watery solitude
sounded like
from within.

12 Comments


  1. This is lovely, Dave. Depiction and meditation perfectly melded.

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  2. or flying underwater
    wings like oars…

    oh, yes,
    the ouzels are just as you have described them.
    It’s a wonderful poem, Dave.
    thank you.

    i’ve always wished they were east of the divide,
    but then, i guess that’s part of my reason
    I’m now on this side of The Divide.
    Here with ouzels and my memories.

    Btw, to get to where I am staying,
    you must cross “the Divide”
    that separates the town from the
    outside world to the north.
    You come down into town
    through the Mule Pass tunnel.
    http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/2389107.html

    seems that crossing divides
    is becoming a routine part
    of my life.

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  3. Wonderful poem. They’re shaman birds, crossing from world to world as easily as you and I go from room to room. I love that they’re such dull shabby nondescript-looking things.

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  4. Dick – Thanks. I worked on this thing for a week, believe it or not, until I finally gave up on the perfect, John Haines- or Tomas Transtromer-style poem I wanted to write and just wrote down what I remembered in my own voice.

    bev – I’m so glad it resonated with you. The post I linked to, with the John Muir quote and videos, had such depth.

    Bisbee, right? I suppose you know Richard Shelton wrote an entire book about Going Back to Bisbee. (A wonderful poet. I love his work. He also wrote a memoir about teaching in the prisons called Crossing the Yard, which I recommend to anyone interested in social justice issues, in poetry, or in education.)

    Dale – “Shaman birds,” exactly! Muir says that even when they fly above the water, they stay as close to the surface as possible, even flying up the face of waterfalls. I guess you must get to see quite a bit of them on your annual family vacations.

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  5. Very poignant Dave, and I can’t think of a better person to dedicate it to.

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  6. When I was at university some friends made me a birthday cake in the shape of a dipper, having surreptitiously asked me what my favourite bird was.

    I might choose something different now (something glamorous like a toucan or hummingbird? Or hoopoe or bee-eater or roller… or maybe lapwing, or long-tailed tit or I don’t know what), but dipper would probably be in my top ten.

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  7. it flows with beauty and nostalgia…a great start:” In our first river west” and a great final:”what that watery solitude/sounded like/from within.”

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  8. Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher, a naturalist of whom your mother may have written, wrote memorably on ouzels who overwintered on their lake in middlenorth B.C. They cheered her on the coldest mornings.

    Someone who I think really did know told me once that ouzels occasionally drown themselves, he said, out of exuberance.

    Great, vivid poem. I love the incarnations of the ouzel in the gay couple and in your brother; it’s such a great set-up to first meet the ouzel bobbing and winging at campground, in the backseat of a family station wagon; as neighbor, as brother. When the ouzel finally takes to water it takes all that is familiar, all dry land with it.

    Between this poem and an image by Pete McGregor, I’ve had the facile thought that birds are landscape concentrated.

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  9. Yep, Mom covered Stanwell-Fletcher in Women in the Field. I wonder if that’s true about the drowning? A fascinating detail if so.

    Thanks for the great comment. I like your closing thought.

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  10. The American dipper, how I yearned for them, as long ago as they were called that name. Your poem is wonderful.

    I first saw ouzels, even being a westerner, only a couple of years ago, on a beautiful river, the North Umpqua. Shamans. Yes. I think they are.

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  11. Yes, Bisbee. Thanks for the reminder about Shelton’s books. I should definitely pick up copies at one of the local stores.
    I’ve never heard of ouzels drownings, but they certainly venture into some pretty wild torrents and I’ve waited to see if they come out okay. They usually pop up a few seconds later, often several feet away. In addition to their underwater antics, they are incredibly agile fliers. At a few of the canyon rivers which I like to visit, they race past, skimming the water, tilting and zigzagging to avoid large rocks, at speeds that are almost too fast for the eye to follow. Such amazing little birds.

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  12. I was aghast the first time I witnessed a plain little bird dash itself into a snow-banked torrent. And amazed when it later popped up on a slippery, black rock, apparently satisfied.

    Shaman birds, hm? Yes.

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