I belong nowhere, half here,
half there. ― Anne Michaels, “Stone” in Miner’s Pond
The difference, if you are a river,
is whether you flow east into the Atlantic
or west into the Pacific. But you can’t flow
both directions. “The mountains are calling
and I must go.” But I waver on Marias Pass,
a mile above sea level at the Continental Divide.
East or West?
Distant mountaintops, dusted
with powdered sugar even in late summer.
At lower elevations, an even crew cut
of grey and brown stubble left over
from devastating forest fires, a delicate blanket
of green covering the base of the hills.
Narrow the focus, onto the forest floor,
where bright wildflowers stand out
against tall, blackened trunks and spindly
new trees. Hardy wildflowers return first
after a fire, animals later.
The guidebook says, “Bears
and mountain lions especially
should be avoided.” Avoiding
conflict, with yourself and others. Making
peace. Worthy goals, but how, when I belong
neither here nor there?
Views from the train: vast fields
of sunflowers followed by clusters
of small oil rigs; flowing hay surrounding
solid gravestones; the elegance
of horses on a slope, a tidy house atop
the hill, and a collection of broken-down vehicles
next to the horses; a shiny Mercedes
outside tenement housing; yachts
and pleasure boats tied up
on the Erie Canal facing abandoned warehouses,
factories, and laundry strung outside
A dream one night on the train:
wide, shallow steps from the shoreline up
to a manor house high on a hill, a journey,
from the Great Lakes to the mountains
of childhood. But there is nowhere—
and no way—to stop on the stairs.
Also a memory:
a selection of rocks submerged
in a pail of cold lake water, their jewel-like colors
sparkling as they did on the lake bottom
where they drew my hand down
to pick them up. Laid out on the dock to dry
they lose their appeal, the colors dull
and lifeless until I put the rocks back
in the water. There is no middle ground.
A childhood near “the river of ambush
or surprise” offered many meanings for the confluence
of rivers: a place of spiritual significance,
a center for trade, a place for a battle—or
a settlement, where there could be peace.
The middle ground. Like the colors
of the lake rocks, it is elusive, changeable,
can’t easily be had. But having
is not living.
The collective unconscious of rivers
knows where we have been and where
we are going—even before we do.
An answer, from the forest:
there will always be new growth.
By Meg Freer
Note: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” is from John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist who founded the Sierra Club, in a letter to his sister Sarah Muir Galloway (3 September 1873), published in William Frederic Badè, The Life and Letters of John Muir found on the Sierra Club John Muir Exhibit Website.
Meg Freer grew up in Missoula, Montana, US, and now lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where she teaches piano and enjoys running and photography. She began writing poetry in 2015. Her photos and poems have won awards both in North America and overseas and have been published in chapbooks and in both print and online anthologies. In 2017 she won a fellowship and attended the Summer Literary Seminars in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Journal entries and photos from Tbilisi may be found here.
“Contrasts” read by Meg Freer, accompanied by pianist Ian Wong (ianwongmusic.com)