From This Ground: Where a Continent Divides

“The earth says have a place, be what that place requires.”
—William Stafford

If you stand on a certain hollow-sounding outcrop far up Swift Creek Canyon in Wyoming, a sound of water can be felt in your feet. Here where you lose direction in mountain shadow, a reliable pulse rises hourly from earth: moments later a trickle and stream, then small rapids over stone, the rush and falls of icy springs.

Here I sensed as a child the underground histories of things, a pull of myth turned strong as roadbed realities. The high needles and bark of forests became canopies over stories unheard and waiting, like the one that might explain a ball rolling uphill in that steep place beneath pine near the Snake River. Nothing in school would quite touch or validate my fascination for such lord until we memorized the closing stanza of Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” and began readings full of dark tide and rhthm from Longfellow. Hearing his poems “Seaweed” and “The Tide Rises, The Ride Falls,” I was stirred back to that sense of water sounding up through my limbs. Longfellow’s words were flow and beat: “From each cave and rocky fastness,/ In its vastness/ Floats some fragments of a song.”

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