In the Moment

for Vicky D.

As often as it happens, when
you see a sudden deer
standing still as the mountain it lives on
there’s a silence that runs deep
into the earth
for the moment until
a shiver of sound
is caught in the wide open ears
and the head turns a few degrees
before she runs through summer’s grass
and disappears into the calls
of an oriole in woodland.
Such moments remind us
this is land between granite and grass
with horizons that tilt
beneath storms in their season
and valleys where thirst
runs on a riverbed
until the day the rains draw
toads from underground
to become the beating hearts of night.
This is the time
trees sing to themselves,
when owls are quick and stars
flow across the peaks. Look out
into the universe, take a step
in the moon’s direction
and look back at what surrounds you:
bedrock, cactus ribs, gravel trails
and junipers. After sunrise
you might find a rattlesnake stretching
out on a warming trail, look
a bear in the eyes as he ambles
on the other bank of a stream, or flush
a covey of quail from the shade,
and surprise will be what binds you all
to common ground.

By David Chorlton

cactus and sunset lit butte in Hewitt Canyon, Arizona


David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications on- and off-line, and reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. His newest collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and late in 2017 The Bitter Oleander Press will publish Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant.

Photo by Anton Foltin

Hiking the Grand Canyon

“This landscape is animate: it moves, transposes, builds, proceeds, shifts, always going on, never coming back, and one can only retain it in vignettes, impressions caught in a flash, flipped through in succession, leaving a richness of images imprinted on a sunburned retina.” From Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon by Ann Zwinger

I’ve always liked Jules Verne’s writings, and from my first reading, I was captivated by his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. The fantastic adventure commences in Iceland, or rather under Iceland, for the most part. The movie versions never could compete with the fantastic images that Verne’s words produced in my mind’s eye. And as a child, I became curious about this place called Iceland, and was captivated by the photos of the landscape I found in the library and National Geographic. And amongst the photos that most evoked the sentiments in me that Verne’s book had, were the ones not of volcanos, but of the canyons. It was at that point that I made an emotional connection between canyons and the Journey, and I can’t separate the two very easily to this day. I have not explored Iceland yet, nor attempted my own visit to the center of the earth, but I have found some caverns and more than a few canyons. And in truth, I have not fully abandoned the whimsical dream that the Lidenbrock’s Path that Verne wrote about might exist somewhere at the bottom of a canyon, probably a grand one, at that.

south rim view of the Grand Canyon.When one refers to the Grand Canyon, it is usually the magnificent 277 mile long gorge cut by the Colorado River through Northern Arizona. Usually, but not exclusively as it turns out. There are canyons and gorges in many states that are referred to as “Grand” in some fashion. Kind of like the way iconic people are referred to as the “Babe Ruth of” whatever it is they do. There is Letchworth State Park’s “Grand Canyon of the East” in New York, not to be confused with Maine’s Gulf Hagas or West Virginia’s New River Gorge, both also dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East”. Alabama’s Walls of Jericho is called the “Grand Canyon of the South”, as is the gorge in Breaks Interstate Park in the Virginia portion. The “Grand Canyon of the North” is an open pit mine in Hibbing. MN, and the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.

Wyoming has the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”, while the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina” is Linville Gorge, and “Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon” is Pine Creek Gorge. Features called “Grand Canyon Of ” are found in Michigan, Tennessee, Idaho, Oregon and Texas as well. Interestingly, “Little Grand Canyons” also are found in Vermont, Mississippi, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Missouri, Georgia, California and Washington. That’s Washington State, not DC, although I’ve scrambled along some pretty steep banks fishing along Rock Creek in the District, our first National Park incidentally. I am sure I’ve missed a few “Grands”, but you get the picture. The park services, chambers of commerce or tourist bureaus are not trying to deceive you, they are merely paying homage to the ultimate one in Arizona. And for the record, Arizona is not immune to a little hype either, their state moniker being “The Grand Canyon State”.

I guess everyone who has been to the Grand Canyon has a memory of their initial reaction to standing on the rim and beholding what was now in front of them. Most people don’t say behold to describe what they see, but it is the only word that fits, and it is not really enough. We all have seen the pictures and film, or read accounts dating from the Spanish explorers to John Wesley Powell to the aforementioned National Geographic. But as cliche as it sounds, all that doesn’t do it justice. First fully explored by Powell after the Civil War, it was dedicated a National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt roughly forty years later. Roosevelt’s words on the plaque with his likeness at Roosevelt Point on the rim pretty much sums it up. “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, and for all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American … should see.” It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the superlatives and awe are all warranted.

Hiker on a Grand Canyon TrailMy first visit to the Grand Canyon was in winter, when we took a break from trout fishing along Oak Creek near Sedona, Arizona. Driving north through Flagstaff, we approached the Grand Canyon traveling along a sagebrush plateau dotted with pinyon pine and juniper, and revealing an occasional pronghorn. My first view of the canyon was then of course from the South Rim. The exact spot was at the Bright Angel trailhead. Because of icy conditions there, we did more viewing than hiking. My clamp on ice creepers or a pair of YakTrax would have changed that, but they were 2,600 miles away in my ice fishing bucket. But the viewing was ample and the landscape was like none I’d ever seen. As I stated, I love canyons, so I’ve seen a few, but nothing remotely like this. Not only in terms of scale, but of vantage point as well. And perhaps the single most compelling thing to me from there and several other vistas, was the narrow green ribbon snaking along the bottom of the the gorge as far as you could see.

Although I knew what is was, I could not reconcile easily the appearance with the physical reality of the flow at first. It was of course the Colorado River, but I’d never seen any water so far below me except while on a plane. The virtual trivialization of this mighty river was stunning. The sight of the Colorado looking more like a varicose vein than a river is one of my most vivid memories of the canyon, right up there with the overall surreal scale of the landscape. We often use the phrase “as far as the eye can see”, and probably use it accurately enough in most cases. But here on the South Rim, glassing the otherworldly aspect that the Canyon evokes, it took on a new dimension. And in that moment when my breath was literally taken away by both the scope and beauty of my surroundings, I was re-filled to bursting with a particular thought, quickly becoming knowledge.I knew beyond a certainty that there were more places lying before me than I could ever explore in a lifetime. And right there, under my moon-eyed gaze, were places no one else had been. Boulders where no one else had warmed themselves in the sun, box canyons as narrow as city alleys that no one had followed to the end, rock faces no one had scaled, tiny gravel beaches no one had stretched their legs on, pools that had never seen a lure, and seepages that had never filled a canteen. It both thrilled and amazed me, and scarcely a day passes that I do not re-visit that feeling, a lasting gift of the Canyon.

But, there were other aspects of our initial exploration of the Grand Canyon that allowed a more measured observation of the landscape. A deserted trailhead access for the Hermit Trail provided a rare solitude that day along the rim. On the way there, we passed many coyotes and mule deer, the larger mammals most frequently encountered in the Grand Canyon National Park. Hiking down into the Canyon pleasantly afforded us a more micro view of the environment, micro of course, only in comparison to the rim views. The Hermit Trail is rough and steep along much of it’s 4600 elevation drop to the river. But the upper third that we trekked along was not unreasonable, and unlike the upper portions of Bright Angel Trail, the Hermit Trail was ice free that February afternoon. Hiking through the rocks, sagebrush and a few Englewood spruce, gave us a chance to bask in the below rim experience. Two golden eagles, several ravens and a peregrine falcon soared overhead on the thermals as we made our way down the trail. At a switchback we chose as the terminus of our hike, we sat and watched the lenticular clouds forming over the rapidly shadowy Canyon.

As the temperature perceptibly began to drop a well, we headed back up the narrow but relatively stable trail, I felt secure in the fact that our packs were weighted not only with an extra fleece and water bottles, but headlamps and flashlights as well. All but the water bottles never left the packs, as despite the fatigue of a long day, our pace was quicker ascending than it had been descending. That was so, partially because there was less to see in the fading light. Reaching the trailhead parking lot just before dusk, the Canyon had one final surprise for us. As we drove around a sharp bend, a small herd of elk crossed the road in front of us. The size of these animals is awe inspiring, especially to one whose home woodlands have only the whitetail deer as ungulate representatives. An enormous bull elk stood in the middle of the road staring at us until the cows and calves had moved well into the trees, before trotting away and disappearing like a ghost into the dusk and brush, but never from our memory.


Photos by the author and Sherry Yates

Field Trip to Oak Flat

An ice wind blows across
mesquite and manzanilla
tearing the eyes
of those who wait for birds
to thaw from the trees.
Sunlight reaches down

between rocks to where
grasses are a mist of warmth
and beneath them

deeper than cold
or heat, the tunnels converge
through which darkness
travels at the speed of light

and a gopher’s
are the eyes of the Earth.

By David Chorlton

Gopher peering out of tunnel hole


David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications on- and off-line, and reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. His newest collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and late in 2017 The Bitter Oleander Press will publish Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant.

Photo by James McKay

August

A crack runs through the heat
between Benson and the state line
where thunder sweeps the kingbirds
from wires along the highway
while Tombstone rattles
in wind moving in from the west
so hard the leaves in the cottonwoods
along the San Pedro
flash two greens at once. Boulders
and clouds are interchangeable
at Texas Canyon; hail blasts the paint
from tavern walls in Bowie; and the interstate
flows past Willcox
with traffic stalled while the waters
of time run off the hunched backs of Turkey
vultures who grip hard
the dying boughs on which they roost.
A pale road is submerged
in an earth-reddened flood with nowhere
to stop. The Huachucas strain
at their foundations
and the runoff to the grasslands
soaks down as far
as mammoth bones buried
in a tropical millennium. The power
fails in Tucson, while creation’s light
flares over Miller Peak.

By David Chorlton

Thunderstorm over desert mountains


David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications on- and off-line, and reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. His most recent book, A Field Guide to Fire, was his contribution to the Fires of Change exhibition shown in Flagstaff and Tucson in Arizona. Click HERE to visit his web site.

We are from Wildness

The human race has evolved from cave-dwelling, rudimentary creatures and we have transmuted ourselves into sophisticated beings who tame Wildness into submission. Today we hold almost six times more water in storage dams than what flows free in rivers. We have converted about 50 percent of the world’s surface area to grazing land or cultivated crops. Less than 17 percent of land remains untouched by the direct influence of humans. We traveled to the moon, defined table manners, harnessed nuclear energy, learned to build bridges and skyscrapers, defied gravity and invented the automobile. Unfortunately our ceaseless pursuits for progress, beneficial as it might be on many levels, obscure the natural world ever further from our collective consciousness.

Despite the hallmarks of modern civilization suggesting a separation between man and Wildness, I believe the contrary is true and we are inextricably linked together. Childbirth is primal, labor pains seem primitive, so we harness nature with epidurals, but the fact that they exist, is a sign that we are bound to a history of Wildness. Humans come into the world as wild little creatures; every first, life-inducing breath is a confirmation that we are a piece of Wildness. It is true human babies come into the world predisposed to intelligence and emotion because of their membership to our species, but instruction and socialization is necessary to make the little baby into a “functioning,” modern person. Without guidance, a human baby will remain a language-less wild thing, as is evident in reports of feral children that make the news from time to time. We too, are nature’s children and our connection to out natural world and environment is inseverable. Sometimes it takes unexpected, extra-ordinary circumstances to remind us that our wild heritage lives on in a synthetic world.

Wildness is Beauty – The Infinite Milky Way in a Black Desert Sky

I was nineteen years old, wide–eyed, innocent and backpacking in a Neverland that was the Middle East. I arrived in Aqaba, Jordan in October 1994, by way of ferry from Hurghada, Egypt. Our first stop in Jordan was Wadi Rum, or “Valley of the Moon” in English, where hills and mountains punctuate the soft, sandy desert floor into unworldly beauty. The magnificent desertscape features imposing mountains: colossal sandstone boulders shoot up as if from nowhere, the hills rest on ancient granite rock foundations buried in the rose-hued desert sand. Sunset turned the landscape into an exquisite inferno that was scarlet skies, orange sand and deep red rock.
Mountain in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum came into Western consciousness, in large part because the valley was the desert stomping ground of T.E. Lawrence, the enigmatic British officer and author, who was stationed there during World War I to assist the Arabs in revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The landscape, which so enchanted “Lawrence of Arabia,” filled me with the same sense of wonder. We were introduced to informal Bedouin tour guides, who drove tourists around on the back of Toyota pick-up trucks, criss-crossing the rugged, breathtaking terrain. Part of the tour package was to spend the night with a Bedouin family under the stars (or in their tent if the guests so pleased.)

Bedouins are Nomad Tribes from the Arabian Peninsula and the most recent in a long line of human inhabitants in the area. Humans have lived here for millennia and a large number of petroglyphs, the oldest at minimum 12,000 years old, attest to man’s prehistoric presence.

After a long day of traversing the desert and taking in sights, smells, sounds and dust, we joined our hosts at their camp and were treated to warm hospitality and a simple dinner, eaten by hand around a massive communal serving platter. Dinner was followed by sweet-smelling shisha pipes, copious small glasses of shay (tea,) conversation, traditional songs and music. We retired when the pipes were cold and the teacups empty and rolled out our sleeping bags a little ways away from our hosts’ tents to sink into sandy nests for the night. We decided to make the great outdoors our sleeping quarters, in order to see the stars as we drifted to sleep.

I have lived another nineteen years again since then and I have never seen as big a sky and as many stars since that glorious day when I trusted the universe without a second thought. I made the rather risky decision to get on the back of a pickup truck, to drive off into the Arabian Desert with complete strangers … and how did the gamble pay off! Words, or my wanting wordsmith abilities, fall short of the sense of magnificence and grandeur the stars, the skies and black desert filled me with on that night. I felt infinitely small and wholly content in the presence of such beauty, such splendor. Not even waking in the middle of the night, realizing we have since been surrounded by our Bedouin hosts’ herd of inquisitive and shitting goats, could dampen the gloriousness of the moment. I was enveloped by nature: desert beneath me, heavens above me and goats surrounding me. I felt rolled up in a magic carpet of make-believe splendor, except that my never-never moment was real.milky way above red Wadi Rum desert in Jordan

Wildness Is the Power of Transformation

My bus route from home to work took me through a part of London rarely seen by tourists. No Big Ben or Buckingham Palace in my backyard, but instead the ugly North Circular ring road and a massive Ikea warehouse. When I first arrived in the city, I needed to find cheap housing and ended up in Neasden. I then found a job in Colindale, another sad looking enclave in the massive expanse of London and not particularly convenient because, although near enough in miles and postcodes, I had to take two buses through these rundown, drab areas. My commute robbed me of at least two waking hours each and every workday. However, I became used to the cheap rent and very good friends with my roommates. I ended up living in Neasden for 3 years, my entire time in London. It was these inconvenient, uncharmed living arrangements that unexpectedly instigated a powerful experience of Wildness.

I worked in a travel agent call center and would often finish work as late as 11:30pm, which meant a scramble to catch the last buses home. One winters night snow started sifting down, which is a pretty rare occurrence in London and most of the time not that disruptive. I was not overly concerned and caught my first bus home as I would any normal night. When I arrived at the second bus stop, I discovered there wouldn’t be another bus. The roads were not safe. The minicab company said the same thing. Stuck. Three miles from home. Stuck. I had no choice, but to walk. I started out for home teary eyed, a little fearful and very sorry for myself.

Then, once my self-pity subsided a bit, it made way for the realization that I am amidst a winter wonderland worthy of a fairy tale. A magical veil of virgin snow was transforming the ugly, rundown oldness right in front of my eyes. My journey took me down Dollis Hill Lane where I passed Gladstone Park. Trees were white old ghosts and the lawns were vast, white plains. The soft light of the street lamps irradiated the snow, adding to the whimsy and magic. Soft snowflakes kept sifting down from the heavens, pinching my cheeks and keeping me alert. Wondrous is the fact that uncountable numbers of minuscule, infinitely delicate, fleeting snowflakes performed in unison to create the transformation. Ice crystals, all of them hexagonal and not one of them identical, poured out of the heavens like an army of magicians.

I arrived home high as a kite on the joy of beauty. It was not the first time I had seen snow, but the disparity between the usual, tired, everyday appearance of my winter wonderland and the nights’ snowy magic, as well as the canyon that was my mood swing from tears to exultant joy, caused my elevated mood. How fortunate was I to bear real time witness to the transformational power of nature!

winter park with benches covered with snow in the evening

Wildness Is the Enigma of Nothingness

Last August we were driving home on the last leg of a summer road trip, from Grand Lake, CO to Phoenix, AZ. Shortly after crossing from Utah into Arizona, we heard a loud noise, Peter said “oh, shit” about six times (we do not usually swear in front of the kids) and he pulled over to the side of the road about half a mile on after the “big bang” and just as soon as there was a safe place to stop. Our almost new Honda CR-V had a tire blowout and we, in our infinite trust in car dealerships, assumed that the tire changing kit, standard with the car, was in tact. Alas, there was some instrument missing, we were unable to change the tire and were categorically stuck. I called AAA and the operator asked where we were. I told her we were stuck on US-163 and gave her the mile marker information, which was located on a post about 30 feet from where we came to a halt. She asked me about other visible landmarks. I did a 360-degree turnabout and there was nothing but desert, the asphalt road and a mile marker. I said there were none; we are in the desert; surely the mile marker is sufficient to locate us. The friendly voice on the other side of the phone persisted and asked again and again about possible landmarks. The idea that I could not offer up one more point of interest about our location was unthinkable to her. In truth, there was much more to be said about our location, I am sure. For one, we realized we were on the Navajo Nation. I know the earth at our feet and on the horizon teemed with desert dwellers, even if they were not advertising their presence to us – the intruders in the silver SUV.

The incident and the AAA operator’s insistence on more information when the landscape was “empty,” made me realize humankind is so used to our cluttered lives with stocked up cities, homes, equipment, treasures and entertainment that the idea of perceived emptiness, absence of the discernible, is often foreign and frightening. The AAA lady was flabbergasted by the concept. I too felt uncomfortable in that place, without a means of leaving it, but I forced myself to pause and to contemplate and appreciate the utter isolation and emptiness. Whenever I come across an arid place that is also beautiful, I am reminded of the striking words of Elisabeth Eybers, a poet who wrote in my mother tongue, Afrikaans, about the arid lands of The West-Transvaal and her words roughly translate to: “God had nothing left to give this land, but the peace of completion.” I include the lines from the poem here for no other reason than that I love them.

God het geen berge of bosse oorgehad
toe Hy dié land moes maak, en kon toe net
die vrede van voleindiging hier laat.

The peace one can find in an uncluttered, “empty” landscape, void of distraction, is profound and a gift the wilderness is ready to bestow. An empty landscape promises soul-nourishing quietness and a mind at peace; commodities hard to come by these days.

It is true that we often forget about the connection we have with Wildness, because modern urban living obscures that connection. Billboards, skyscrapers and strip malls had all but replaced trees and other flora in our communities. Tarmac and concrete cover where once were sand, dirt and earth. We have swimming pools, wishing wells at Macy’s and reservoirs instead of rivers. In the manic frenzy of our existence, it sometimes takes extraordinary circumstances to drive home the realization that Wildness continues to exist around us and within us. The challenge is to always retain consciousness of our connection with nature and to cherish and embrace the Wildness that we are a part of. We have to know that in harming nature we will ultimately harm ourselves, because we are tied with an umbilical, life-sustaining chord that can never be severed. We cannot divorce ourselves of the negative impacts of a dwindling Wildness. We need clean air and clean water to be alive and Wildness is the only source. We must realize that man and Wildness are not opposing powers, but that we belong to one another, for better or for worse.

woman standing by tree on city street


Chrisna Byck is an environmental documentary film producer, non-profit administrator, mother of two young boys and newbie writer. She co-produced ‘carbon nation,’ a film about climate change solutions and continues to work on environmental short films. Originally from South Africa, she traveled all over the world and now calls Phoenix, AZ home. She holds a B.A. Degree in English and is currently working on a Masters of Liberal Arts at Arizona State University. Her writing interests include travel, the environment, social issues and motherhood.

Photo of Wadi Rum by Daniel Case, WikiCommons

Photo of Milky Way over Wadi Rum by Elena Petrova

Photo of Urban Park in Snow by Alexander Ishchenko