Little Beaver Creek
Little Beaver Creek
Published in Written River #10
A breeze is all:
little more than silence,
little less than hemlock
needles in air.
Pale-green witch’s hair
from every limb of Douglas fir.
But where are all the bald witches?
Mosquito, did you forget
to look at the calendar?
It’s September, you know.
Haggard cedars rise and rise above the creek,
looking down to watch their step.
At their feet, vine maple
whenever the old ones
stub their toes against the current.
Shoots of alder lean out
from the sandy bank, floating
their arms in and above
the gray-green waters.
One yellow, scalloped leaf
circles the eddy on the surface,
little boat, marking the bend.
When the sun appears in the ripples,
even trees far in the forest
find a shimmer across their shade.
Devil’s club, why do you bother?
Along the trail, you keep extending
your fat hands like an over-friendly
greeter at the door of a church.
All you want is a fair shake,
but I’ll slip into the sanctuary
while you’re not looking.
Nurse log, burrowed deep
in damp decay—
old mossy sow
with an infinite number of teats.
Little seedling of silver fir,
reaching out in all directions,
where are you going, where
have you been, as you
stand up in your cradle?
Red cedar, you wrap your roots
around the boulders at your base
as if you love them, as if
you will not let them go.
You have coated their little bottoms
with moss, a tender blanket,
tucked them in for another winter.
High noon, and the sun
still hides behind the mountain.
Little valley, welcome
to the shades of autumn.
in a swift passage of rain,
are you getting ahead of yourselves?
Nootka rose, I like your hips,
red-hot, the way
when I brush by.
Prince’s pine, your shriveled
flower brown as dust,
your little leaves
bereft upon the forest floor,
you are much too short
to be a pine—or a prince.
If I kiss you, will you
turn back into a frog?
Coolwort, tiny earth-bound stars,
you are the only shining ones
in this dark forest among the berries.
Mushroom in the middle of the trail,
do you mean to say
no one has come to see you this week?
Banana slug, inquiring
the way with outstretched horns,
I love you for being living proof
that I am not the slowest
creature on this path.
Tiny Pacific chorus frogs,
suddenly you appear at my feet,
leaping for joy. Could it be
you heard me singing from afar?
The papery bulb
of a baldfaced hornet nest
hangs under a spray of hemlock.
Nearby, a spider web on tips of alder,
the big boy waiting in the center.
A passing hornet
smacks right into the web—
and bounces off, a shark too big for the net.
Douglas squirrel, are you checking me out?
You are definitely checking me out.
Black bear looking me in the eye,
be my guest. No, really.
That particular patch of huckleberries—
the one you are stripping clean
with your pink tongue?
I have zero interest in those berries.
Honest. They’re yours.
—North Cascades National Park
Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. He recently served as an artist-in-residence in North Cascades National Park. His latest collection is Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). Visit his website at pauljwillis.com.