Thickhead Wild Area: a walking poem

oak tree with an old limb break rotted into something like a mouth

just before dropping
off to sleep

it feels as if I’m on the edge
of something vast and spacious

sunlight concentrated
until it’s thick as honey

and woven into nets
strong enough for boulders

the periglacial erratic
hunkered down by the parking area

the steel towers of babble
drawing us to something like a peak

let me retrace my steps
later in a dream

the ground’s fine figure
felt through moccasin soles

no longer stumbling over
hard syllables of quartzite

lingering to savor
the round vowels of mud

***

I bend down to pat some torn-up
moss back into place

straighten up and can’t recall who I am
for a half-second of bliss

the wind drops a small branch
six feet away

a black-and-white warbler
keeps chanting is it? is it? is it?

my eye drifts up to a vulture
rocking back and forth

pale field of boulders here
snowbanks of laurel there

a common yellowthroat answered
by a chestnut-sided warbler

at each boulder field a view
in each view more of the boreal bog

where a high and lonesome glacier
once bled out

***

my feet sink into a carpet
of tiny staminate cones of white pine

I eat a few—a pineyness
that keeps me company for miles

as my eyelids droop under the weight
of a nap not taken

here’s an oak that couldn’t decide
which route to take to the sky

I stop as I always do
to snap its picture

a black ant crosses the path
on a path visible only to antennae

now I am watching my steps
as never before

rocks shift
pine needles slide

shadows shapeshift in the wind
and merge into one

***

I take a wrong turn
and a mosquito lets me know

backtrack to the windy ridgetop
the sunlit meadows of lichen

the trees are starting to make sense
the way they bow to each other

as the sun comes out and goes in
on my favorite trailside birch

I watch it go from Ariel
to pure Caliban

when the sun goes in
the forest photographer smiles

when the sun comes out
the 56-year-old child cheers

these reveries feel illicit among
so many official spots for reverie

but there are thoughts
that don’t fit into vistas

but have room to spare
in the openings between trees

***

a trough through the rocks
where trail volunteers must’ve tried
to get to the bottom of it

on bare scree my switch to thin soles
has taken me from stompy and confident
to slightly terrified

and it is probably way past time
for me to become
an old man with a stick

as I pick my way
over Indian Wells
which are neither

my feet only know
what to do with tree roots
their living resistance

at the edge of Big Flat
where kids still come
to get stoned and laid

a charcoal hearth from the 1820s
now hosts a great pile
of campfire charcoal

***

these mountains shaken down
for a hundred thousand winters

though never under
an ice sheet

lost their stone Mohawks
while remaining entirely unpolished

then boom! the charcoal iron
boom! the lumbering

the American chestnut blight
the spongy moth caterpillars

but mountain laurel and blueberries
thrive in all that sun

so that’s what people come for now
that and the view

as every hungry artist knows
they’re not here to see you

but what they can see from you
a viewpoint they will name after you

your vast quarry
on which we feed

even now a rocky spine
is breaking through

***

I walk down to Keith Spring
it’s clear to the bottom of the sky

and chanted over
by two warblers

black-throated green
black-throated blue

there’s little trace of the camp site
where Andy saw the bear

and I took off running after it
desperate to measure my fear against it

a camp site I established myself
is now a sun-blasted opening

I don’t tread lightly
even here

***

the trail descends through spruce
planted by the CCC crews

and then the tall bracken
and my thin sisters

the mosquitoes with whom
I am bonded by blood

the trail ends without ending
and I take a last look

plump white mounds of laurel
visited by capricious swallowtails

Indian cucumber root flowers
like hidden winged stars

oak leaves turned holey
by god’s own caterpillars

and the companionable silence
of so many unplanted trees

when I circle back
past the spring

a hermit thrush is singing
just upslope

from notes written while walking the Tom Thwaites Footpath section of the Mid-State Trail
June 18, 2022

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