Saturday, March 26, 2011

Alone in the Canyon of Stillness

"Story from Bear Country"

You will know
when you walk
in bear country
By the silence
flowing swiftly between the juniper trees
by the sundown colors of sandrock
all around you.

You may smell damp earth
scratched away
from yucca roots
You may hear snorts and growls
slow and massive sounds
from caves
in the cliffs high above you.

It is difficult to explain
how they call you
All but a few who went to them
left behind families
                         and sons
                         a good life.

The problem is
you will never want to return
Their beauty will overcome your memory
like winter sun
melting ice shadows from snow
And you will remain with them
locked forever inside yourself
                          your eyes will see you
                          dark shaggy and thick.

We can send bear priests
loping after you
their medicine bags
bouncing against their chests
Naked legs painted black
bear claw necklaces
rattling against
their capes of blue spruce.

They will follow your trail
into the narrow canyon
through the blue-gray mountain sage
to the clearing
where you stopped to look back
and saw only bear tracks
behind you.

When they call
faint memories
will writhe around your heart
and startle you with their distance.
But the others will listen
because bear priests
sing beautiful songs
They must
if they are ever to call you back.

They will try to bring you
step by step
back to the place you stopped
and found only bear prints in the sand
where your feet had been.

Whose voice is this?
You may wonder
hearing this story when
after all
you are alone
hiking in these canyons and hills
while your wife and sons are waiting
back at the car for you.

But you have been listening to me
for some time now
from the very beginning in fact
and you are alone in this canyon of stillness
not even cedar birds flutter.
See, the sun is going down now
the sandrock is washed in its colors
Don't be afraid
                         we love you
                         we've been calling you
                         all this time

Go ahead
turn around
see the shape
of your footprints
in the sand.

~ Leslie Marmon Silko

Albert Bierstadt  "The Mountain's Brook"


  1. Good poem...I like Birestadt's work...

  2. That's beautiful. I read this from top to bottom...but it reads just as beautiful from bottom to top. It's kinda cool. Like taking a walk reaching your destination and then making your back following the same path.

  3. Leslie Marmon Silko is an astonishing writer. I love this.

  4. Paul, I always have to double check to make sure there is a 'dt' at the end. :)

    Corinna, You do have a name! LOL Thank you. Glad you like it.

    Karen, There is a circular feel to this poem that I felt, but you articulated. And you're absolutely right. Thank you.

  5. Wonderful metaphor about life and death using the bear as the vehicle. I especially like that line: "we love you, we've been calling you all this time". Of course you have been. All I need to do is listen!

  6. This gave me chills. The bear is my totem since my first hunt at age 12, when I encountered a bear just as the days light was failing into dark, about 3 paces in front of me. We locked eyes for a couple of minutes, until I lost my nerve and fired into the air, scaring her/him away.

    Been with me ever since.

    Can I repost this on my blog?

  7. Teri, I like that line, too. Learning to Listen has been my spiritual focus for some time. With wonderful results.

  8. Tom, I'm so glad it spoke to you. Feel free to repost, use the poem in whatever way works for you. It's a good poem to pass on....

    Thank you for telling us about the experience you had that brought the bear to you.

  9. Learning to listen...what a novel thought.

  10. Hi Cletis, It's getting easier, some days are better than others.

  11. Typos follow me
    Across the printed white page,
    Like bloodhounds in ink,

  12. That Haiku above is mine Teresa - Paul

  13. Hey Paul, had me wondering there for a moment... Typos: the perfect subject for haiku. :)

  14. Hum, I'd feel quite content in the canyon of stillness, still my overflowing thoughts.

  15. Um, Teresa, perhaps I need to 'listen' this week and see what transpires. I know I need to 'listen' to the support of others and know that we all are on a journey thought this life and perfection is NOT a destination.
    Thank you so much for your kind words and support...this WILL be a better week :)

  16. Tracy, I am constantly working on becoming a better listener. A good week awaits....

  17. Thank you, Teresa, for introducing me to Bierstadt. Am going to google for more info. The poem is absolutely beautiful...the bear is a metaphor for so much. Am going to re-read; there's so much there. Thank you!

  18. Kittie, Isn't that a beautiful painting? He was part of the Hudson River School of painting, an informal group of similarly minded painters. The poem is among my favorites now for many years. I'm so glad I ran across it again and was able to share it.

  19. The stillness ..the way of the way. When the world shows stillness, it is not a mere gesture or display - it is teaching by example. 'Feel this, know this, be this..'Do we get it? Sometimes, some of us..

    1. Yes, "It is teaching by example." I think I'm getting better at this ... I hope so ... :)