Jun 15, 2006

DREARY BOOKS AND WEARY LANDS
SEATTLE, Washington –  Father's Day is fast approaching. Sometimes it falls on my birthday – Midsummer's Night Eve – which always feels like a rather neat hat trick.

John Castleman is far away, squinting across the desert to the red-mawed Superstition Mountains of Arizona. I miss him, here in the Emerald City, where snow-shadowed peaks gather into a gilded cage.

Long ago, he introduced me to the poet Gary Snyder. Now I buy two volumes of Left Out in the Rain. I want us to read the same words, thousands of miles apart.

The trail fades in the meadow
cairns at each rise to the pass
ash-scars, a ring of stone
– we camped here one other summer –

That was the summer I walked away from childhood. The year we guided together in the backcountry of the the Olympics, the North Cascades. He pointed out Snyder's Sourdough Mountain lookout. Thar's Beats in them thar hills, daughter...

My mother often marvels how similar our stride is on the trail. How our hummingbird brains align.

"You're definitively his child," she jokes. "We're not so sure about the maternity, though."

My father raised me, long before such gender-role-defiance was fashionable. He taught me to backpack, write and – most importantly – appreciate the company of men.

The staccato of his typewriter isn't my first memory, but it's among my most precious.

And so I return again and again to Snyder's "Seaman's Ditty". Though a love poem, the last two stanzas lodge in my head.

I've travelled the lonely oceans
And wandered the lonely towns.
I've learned a lot and lost a lot,
And proved the world was round.

Now if we'd stayed together,
There's much we'd never've known – 
But dreary books and weary lands
Weigh on me like a stone.

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