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A Poem For Those Who Long For Far-Off Shiny Things

January 3, 2019

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Winter Afternoon Hike

I look west. Sigh.
Me on a ridge,
island-distracted
by a strange sun
angle that bounces
a shine–
eye-blinding–
between me and
Catalina’s soft
white shoulder.

I sigh and look
back on ridges
burned to bare.
At my feet
black stumps
sprout artemisia,
a silver eclipse
of bittersweet
to inhale
here and now.

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And . . . the story behind the poem:

Every other month, our Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society publishes a newsletter (or, more accurately, our amazing newsletter editor/CNPS Fellow honoree Sarah Jayne writes up and designs a newsletter).

Sarah often sends an email around deadline time, asking me for a poem, which I appreciate immensely–our OC chapter members are an ideal audience for my local-place-and-plant-focused work (dating all the way back in the online archives to the Nov/Dec 2010 issue.)

Sometimes I wander through files of previously written poems, aiming for something that resonates seasonally, as the decade-old, Santa-Ana-wind-inspired lines in our most recent newsletter (Nov/Dec 2018).

These past weeks, though, I’ve been confronted with the enticing winter afternoon gleam from the top of Barham Ridge looking out over the Pacific twenty-six sea miles to Santa Catalina Island.

This has given me lots to think about on my run back down the switchbacks to the trailhead (at either Irvine Park or Santiago Oaks Regional Park).

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Hmmm . . . what has it meant to my life/development/unseemly crankiness to live at the edge of a continent where “Go West” was an excuse for many good, bad, and ugly things?  West leads nowhere when you live . . . west.

But the shiny gleam of far-away (aka: other! anywhere but the excruciation of where I am now!) places has always been a major mental impediment to my sense of contentment, having lived the last 43 years in a spot only a couple miles away from the place I grew up all those other years.

In other words, I haven’t gone too far in life.

Shadowy Catalina Island, then, just past the dazzle of ocean, becomes a metaphor (and yowzers! metaphors have finally made the news this past week . . . a victory for English majors at least) for all that I always wanted to explore, but the vicissitudes of life . . . blah blah blah and etcetera.

I got a poem out of it this week, anyway.

And the hills (to the EAST) are sprouting to astonishing life again after recent rains . . . so much to fill one’s heart with so close to home . . .

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The Lomas de Santiago (foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains) with Old Saddleback in the distance.

Happy 2019 Trails!  “Think outside the shoe.”

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob G. permalink
    January 10, 2019 9:52 am

    Happy New Year Thea…
    Thanks for the poem. I heard recently that peace of mind comes a piece at a time, and with that, comes the contentment. How is it that the simplest things in life can be the hardest to achieve? I understand your deep connection to place. With me, it’s New York State, with my wife, it’s England…not much middle ground there.
    Here in NJ, people remain machines without governors, ready to tear loose from the factory floor, bolts and all! Where once they annoyed others, now they openly endanger. I try to be a creature of the edges, coyote-like, not needing far-off shiny things, but holding on to bird songs, and the sight of things underfoot…bare, if possible.
    Regards, Bob G.

    • January 10, 2019 11:17 am

      “A piece at a time” for peace of mind . . . I could use a T-shirt with that reminder?

      As far as the rest of your note . . . also pure poetry . . . people/machines running amok with fear-fueled anger vs. the ever-surviving coyote (who’s never looked to shoes for solutions) . . . and always, the bird songs! Love it! Thanks for writing! Happy New Year Barefoot Trail Cheers to you as well 🙂

  2. January 4, 2019 8:59 pm

    Happy New Year Thea!

    Thank you for the beautiful poem and background. Looking at your pictures I am struck by the lack of trees. Around here the view is often obstructed by them, but I miss their shade if I venture where they don’t grow.

    As for travel, either East or West, there seems to be so much more in smaller and closer realms as we learn to slow down, make the effort to be in the moment, to open our eyes, feel with our senses, especially those senses in our toes! What about that little side trail I’ve always passed by, or that little inlet or estuary I rowed past because the tide wasn’t just right or I was trying to get somewhere else? What does this same familiar place look like on a rainy day, or at night with a full moon? What critters visit here that I may see if I sit still long enough?
    I think it is a blessing that is becoming more and more rare to get to live your life in the same place you grew up in, especially if you get to experience that place in an intimate way.

    Thank you for your writing!
    Scott

    • January 5, 2019 7:05 am

      Scott! What exquisitely worded observations! Thanks for all the mini-journeys you words took me on: “that little side trail I’ve always passed by, or that little inlet or estuary I rowed past because the tide wasn’t just right or I was trying to get somewhere else? What does this same familiar place look like on a rainy day, or at night with a full moon? What critters visit here that I may see if I sit still long enough?”
      In 2019 and beyond, I hope to continue to “learn to slow down, make the effort to be in the moment, to open our eyes, feel with our senses, especially those senses in our toes” . . . and appreciate the “blessing” of never. Living. Anywhere-else. 🙂 Happy (tree-filled?) trails!

  3. Caveman Hiking permalink
    January 4, 2019 8:53 am

    Happy barefoot New Year! Love the poem and the back story on the poem. Me thinks one doesn’t have to “go far” when one has so much beauty right at her (bare) feet. A bit jealous of your amazing trails and views and warm temps. And looking at your sunset photo makes me think those folks seeking gold in the West would have found a lot more gold if they just looked up a little.

    Hoping 2019 brings great joy. Thea!

    Now I need to go… We’re having a rare 60deg day after snow New Year’s Eve… I’m going in search of some mud to play in…

    • January 4, 2019 9:29 am

      Thanks for your encouraging note, kindness being a New Year’s gift more important than ever in 2019! And . . . I have to admit . . . after all these years in non-snowy conditions, I realized just how cold-phobic I was after last month’s brief visit to Flagstaff, where temps in the low 40s had NAU students walking to class in shorts while I sported about five layers and wondered what people who live in chilly places do about cold-induced nose-drip?! And, yes . . . the “gold” in our golden state can be had so easily/sustainably if a person just looks up. (Or down.) Much joy and mud-fun to you as well this year 🙂

  4. January 3, 2019 3:15 pm

    Love it, Thea.

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