We really do live in Paradise. We've had a comfortable cool summer while much of the country has baked to a crisp. And I don't say that lightly, living in Atascadero where it can get warm enough to singe your eyelashes.
Who among us hasn't been hypnotized by the silence and serenity of the spreading dunes of Oceano and Guadalupe when off-road vehicles are absent, or enjoyed state park camping adventures at Montana de Oro, hiked to Valencia Peak and marveled at the vast Pacific Ocean below? Perhaps trekked through the aromatic eucalyptus groves? Strolled through the gardens of Hearst Castle and marveled at the mountain and ocean views stretching out in every direction? The elegant historical artistry and architecture engaging our rapt attention? Or camped at Morro Bay State Park and marveled at the magic of a butterfly tree that magnetizes Monarch butterflies in masses to find their mates and reproduce during the winter months?
What is a simple day trip to us—a leisurely drive up Highway One to the Coast Gallery, Nepenthe, the Henry Miller Library, or Julia Pfeiffer Burns and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks—is a jewel whose siren call woos people from all over the world to follow its circuitous path and gaze in awe at its supreme beauty and redwood-studded perfection. Little wonder that we who are fortunate enough to live here consider ourselves blessed to live in a land with which we've fallen irrevocably in love.
That's how a group of poets felt who came together in 2007 and committed to spending two days each month meeting in one of the special places in our county to explore that place, marinate in it much as plein air painters do as they paint out-of-doors and on-site. Rosemary and Cal Wilvert,Paula Lowe, Sylvia Alcon, Marguerite Costigan and Terry Sanville, and I christened ourselves christened ourselves the Plein Air Poets of San Luis Obispo. We made notes on site, wrote there—each following our own lights—and then we completed our poems at home. Two weeks later we met at one of our homes, critiqued each other's work, and eventually, in 2009, our book, Poems for Endangered Places, was released and well received. It was during this time that the first poem I share with you today, was written.
State Park Blues
A pungent carpet of dried eucalyptus leaves,
the detritus of decades, covers the hillside
beneath the tall, familiar forest.
Rhythmic Pacific tides break below.
The ocean can give such peace, but today
it’s the measureless depth of the blues filling
the air, blues that crush hearts, steal breath,
alter the world forever and do-it-now blues.
Around the curve of road below
a hillside lies stripped of eighty blue gums
to make way for a single house;
now the owner wants to strip another hillside.
A concrete retaining wall corsets lot from road.
Denuded land startles, saddens – is an unexpected
catalyst – calling up regretful memories of planetary
plunder many abhor, but feel impotent to alter.
Wherever two-leggeds go, change occurs.
Not at the almost indiscernible pace of evolution,
but turn-it-upside-down, twist-it-inside-out,
consume it or sweep-it-away-in-a-day change.
We clear-cut with impunity, drive without
forethought, manufacture without regard
for consequences, filling the air we breathe
with toxins. Glaciers melt, oceans rise.
We spew our waste into turbulent seas
and mysterious maladies sicken swimmers,
whales die, fish populations diminish, coral
crumbles. Like contractors who remodel
and leave the place a shambles, we explore
space, and even those vast reaches
become our space fill. We’re stewards
of this land, but word is we can’t afford the bill.
So yes. It’s the blues I’m moaning,
the bluest of the blue, blue, blue
state park blues.
This poem was first published in Poems for Endangered Places, by
Plein Air Poets of San Luis Obispo County, 2008
Prayer to the God at the Heart of the Redwood
When beneath workmen’s skilled hands
the new deck began to take shape
beyond glass doors
it was as if a regal redwood forest
had forfeited its life
for our comfort and pleasure.
Still, each time we step
through the door
to stand on that royal red floor
again we trace the fern-frilled trail
through the stately redwood forest
beneath towering living spires,
our feet deep in detritus,
our nostrils filled
with musty, musky memories,
our breasts contracting
at the magnitude of the sacrifice.
Again we feel red trunks
rough beneath our cheeks,
wood fissures firm beneath our hands,
the steady rhythmic alchemy
of monumental heartbeats
echoing in our ears
as they rest on rough red chests.
Again we are overcome
by an upwelling awareness of the gift
rising, rising, rising
above the tree line like water
at historical floodtide.