A Walk in the Park

dead tree green
with poison ivy

sugar maples self-grafting
like circus freaks

a black birch wearing
a hollow locust tree like a coat

these are among
the unsettling attractions

at the Allegheny Portage Railroad
National Historic Site

a monument to the great unsettling
of the American West

but what’s bitter in the morning
may be sweet by afternoon

i drink hot tea from a thermos mug
like an offering to the heat

staying one pace ahead
of my cloud of insects

though i stop for everything:
the man-made cliffs

dripping with native plants
the detours to peer

at old stone culverts
the interpretive signs

slowly being reinterpreted
by age and weather

preservation and transformation
are dance partners here

foundations are buried
for their protection says a sign

with a photo of the little we’re missing
in black and white

meanwhile the bumblebees
are making love to yellow touch-me-nots

Bombylius major pokes his pointy snout
deep into a lobelia

and a mother leads two teenagers
on a sullen walk for their health

now we are beginning
to get somewhere i think

as an alarmed pickerel frog
disappears into his puddle

and although one might wish
for less proximity to a highway

the trees are old and strange
and i am in my element

no longer on the way to elsewhere
people choose to live here in the hills

our journeys are local
our histories are brief

a sign exhorts us to leave
no trace

August 25, 2023

Doom Loop

just past the last internet tower
a rattlesnake’s elegant S

slipping through the crushed stone
almost makes you
want its skin

and divining this
its terminal bones
buzz in your direction:

down-ridge over the rocks’
stormwater eyes

which let you pass through them
as easily as the vultures

or the common mullein
at the first overlook

from a seed planted
by a hiker’s boot

on a well-loved trail
a raccoon’s footprint

might spell hard luck
for endangered wood rats

and yes most of the old trees
have fallen to new blights or pests

that travel the same
pilgrimage route

hemlock woolly adelgids
hitching rides on birds’ feet

spongy moth caterpillars
ballooning in each June

but the vistas are glorious
one can still dream wilderness dreams

ignoring recent clearcutting
in the swampy woods below

the old oaks that remain up here
are still so extravagant

seeming to gesture
seeming to conjure up

you can find forests two inches tall
made of gray-green lichen

stop to watch a slug
cross a jagged rock

a study in single-mindedness
gliding on his/her orange foot

or a sharp-shinned hawk
might speak to you

from atop a snag
your eyes meet

you notice how the branch
keeps swaying after he flies

launching into the green-
feathered wind

descent is difficult
who wouldn’t rather stay high

on a mountain stretching
half-way across the state

low as a wrinkle
in the earth’s hide

this would-be spine where pines
grow old and empty

and you peer into the largest one
and find another snake

this time no wilderness creature
but a black rat snake

coiled and sleeping like
the climber’s rope that it is

nearby a tussock caterpillar
yo-yos in mid-air

white and bristly
as a lost eyebrow

and charmed you decide
to walk all afternoon

looping back
in the long shadows
to your car

Jackson Trail, Rothrock State Forest
August 11, 2023

White Solstice

sun summoning from a white sky
the ridgetop oaks’ fuzzy shadows

gnomons enough to mark
the summer solstice

in one patch of half-sunlight
a box turtle’s red eye blinks

while a scarlet tanager flutters
in the canopy on dark wings

how cool the ghosts
of burning forests have kept us

it’s late morning and i’m still
in long sleeves

a breeze pages through the oaks
a revelation of caterpillars

and the tanager is a quick study
warbling as he hunts

one tree bears a vertical slit
of sky and leaves

crossed by a wide scar
straight through the heartwood

where two intertwined trunks
failed to fuse

and this cross made by a cross
bears an immense green crown

as it should for standing up
to all our weather

eyelids drooping i walk on
into a summer afternoon

the field has its sparrows
and the eastern wood its pewees

but i am melancholy as a catbird’s
parody of a wood thrush

for true refinement can only
be learned from the masters

which is perhaps why the sun
in firefly season

models itself after
that glowworm the moon


Today was a day for visions… though not necessarily a day for understanding. The light had a special quality to it, that early spring haziness.

It was a day bookended by thunderstorms. The temperature climbed into the low 60s.

A fire hydrant at the edge of town stood guard over a feral underground.

Near the crest of the ridge, I saw a tree eating a large rock.

I don’t like that someone did this but I can’t help but admire the tree’s response.

I’ve noticed this tree before, but not after a hard rain. Its eye of lichen really blazed forth, and its green suit of moss was fabulous.

The rain also accentuated the distinction between the two halves of this oak, one dead, the other very much alive. This too seems fabulous, in the specific sense that it reminds me of something out of a fable.

Lichens brighten in the rain. They open all their pores.

A dry strip of bark appears virtually lifeless in contrast to rain-soaked portions, where moss, algae and lichen have been revived.

But no one beats wood frogs for revivals. From suspended animation to full-on orgy. It boggles the mind.


summer always ends
on a wednesday in my head

my half-baked braincase
buzzing like a timber rattler

winter comes in its own time
to whomever needs it most

densely furred
full of absence

imagine being perennial as a tree
regrowing sex organs every year

the oaks i walked among today
were characters in a no-movie

each leaning into their role
but who hid the script

we swayed in the wind
which brought distant cries

this might be a horror scene
that’s the trouble with scripts

on a wednesday the first beech bark disease
on the mountain stopped me cold

smooth gray bark broken out
in pointillist rashes

this mountain’s only gold
is fool’s gold

a full moon
through the trees

blinking on and off
as clouds scud past

so much can go wrong
between one tree and the next

this might be the year
for bird flu or world war three

but summer always ends
on a wednesday


In a forest of headless trees, the one tree with a burl is Pope of Fools.

It’s no accident that burl rhymes with pearl. I mean, it is an accident, but one that makes you think.

If you’re ever in the woods and feel as if you’re being watched, that may be due to the presence of burls. Though to me they have more of a listening air about them.

Brain surgeons could train on them but don’t, as far as I know. Woodworkers could turn them into bowls, and some do.

Such a bowl wouldn’t do for an ordinary salad. It would have few if any practical applications. You’d just want to have it out on display where you and your friends can gather around, standing very still and whispering whenever there’s a wind.

On the Ownership of Mountains

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

We have our own private mountains, but are they already too tired from waiting for us?
Etel Adnan

a break in the rain
itself a break in the snow

i take a chance on a walk
on my own mountain

the one i live on but also
the one that lives in my head

without their leaves
and most of their birds

the moss-footed trees
couldn’t be quieter

where snow lay until yesterday
the forest floor glistens

the sun is a bright wound
that soon heals over

two ravens converse
from the tops of adjacent trees

croaking high and low
they fly off into the clouds

then the fluting of a goose
with 27 followers

so low over the trees i swear
i feel the breeze from their wings

the tiredness drains
from my legs as i walk

i’m stopped by gnarled
skeletons of mountain laurel

one still clinging
to a fallen oak leaf

what is this blight
where are the snows of yesteryear

i pass a hollow tree just in time
to see its resident porcupine

tail like a spiny piñata
disappearing up inside

below on the road a fresh litter
of chewed-off hemlock twigs

the creek is high but clear
boisterous but well-behaved

yesterday’s ice already seems
as far-fetched as a dream

but how is it that even in winter
a mountain can give clean water

to the mink and muskrats downstream
the heron and trout

a forest grows fitter as it ages
better at filtering water

better at storing carbon
even in steep mountain soil

so the oaks as they sleep
are making fresh compost

growing the mountain
they grow on

attentive in a way that i
alleged part owner could never be

whose woods these really are
i think i know

a land trust oversees their right
not to be destroyed

but the mountain belongs
as all mountains do to the moon

earth’s own private mountain
alive only in our oceanic bodies

which are made for walking
for circling like pilgrims or scavengers

for going from full to dark
to full again

On the Far Side

getting unlost again
i leave the car at the overlook

follow the trail down
the far side of the mountain

where a flash flood preceded me
in the wee hours

scouring the steep parts
mounding up leaves on every flat

it’s the day after thanksgiving
and the day before deer season

a half-mile from the highway
i find a pair of black trousers

sprawled beside the trail
i fold them and put them back

the trail meets another trail
on boardwalks over a spring

passes three camp sites
on the shore of a long-gone pond

goes up over the front
porch of a cabin

and back into the forest
where oak and hemlock shadows

darken and fade as the sun
goes in and out of hiding

i leave the trail
bushwhack through mountain laurel

gape at a massive rock oak’s
full-throated silence

black birches perch
on exposed skeletons of roots

i follow forest roads
the second one gated

past what must be
a research plot

a large fenced enclosure
full of small flags

and much to my surprise find
the unblazed trail i’m looking for

back up the ridge
the forest on my right

facing off against pole
timber on my left

to the windy crest
its rocks and vertigo

gaps in the trees revealing
gaps in the clouds

patches of sun that cross
the next valley and vanish

while off to the south all
the mountains shine

here in the gloom pileated woodpeckers
are stripping bark off a tree

i pass three hikers discussing
the perils ahead

the clouds thin out
and the rocks begin to glow

sunset colors in mid afternoon
at a place called david’s vista

a young man appears
and climbs a ridgetop pine

in the bitter wind
makes himself comfortable

another david perhaps
hoping to be found

Into the Open

an empty space is still data
my phone reminds me

no space is truly empty
a falling leaf reminds me

the time of long shadows
has come ‘round again

cedar waxwings whistle
through bare branches

the low sun catches on wings
in lieu of leaves

rests in a red oak
undressing in the wind

and flickers like an angel
resisting temptation

to follow the leaves down
spinning spiralling

or rocking back and forth
like a cradle

if only i could sleep
and leaf out when i wake

clinging to hope makes us
as empty as the future

let the earth take
its own sweet time

let this glory
be enough


morning of soft sun
and old gold

with the distant yelping
of trucks going backwards

the sound of limestone
being ground down

and a silent jay
going from oak to oak

throat pouch filled with acorns
it flies off east

i follow animal paths
into the afternoon


a gray squirrel buries an acorn
under a laurel bush

sees me watching
and digs it up again

silk threads scintillate
wherever i look toward the sun

each lowbush blueberry
bound to the next

as if the whole forest
lay under a spell

a chipmunk rushes past
i change hats


low sun in the tops
of the Norway spruces

where golden-crowned kinglets
whistle while they glean

a raven’s hoarse
ark ark ark

and me pondering questions
of macroeconomics

puffball ragged as
a faceless old doll’s head

what fertile words of smoke
would you have me spread


when the leaves fall
there’s always some disillusionment

how much lower
all the ridgelines

how much farther
the shell of a moon

but i’ve been tallying
the mountain’s sugar maples

pale as columns of breath

ringed by drifts
of glowing jetsam