From their tunnels in the foothills
Antelope squirrels flash
into sight and away: late morning, clouds
on the horizon
promise to darken
the desert, and the clock ticks
down to a moment
long awaited by the sparrows
who gather among
mesquite and stones. After noon

a dusty wind
blows across the mountain,
carrying off the colors
from its rocks and dizzy ridges
flying high above
the thirsty trails that wind
along low ground. Dusk moves in

behind the steps of a coyote.
He’s been to town.
No rain there either.
The forecast keeps expiring; now
it says to wait, it says to count
the hours first, then
minutes, and finally
to go out when the owl appears

in his favorite tree
and let the seconds take their chances
like mice on the run.

By David Chorlton

trail through 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 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 of desert trail by the author

Mountain Calls

snowy mountain and treeI went to the Rax – the last peak in the Austrian mountains – with a novel in mind. I had planned it as a piece of nature writing segueing into coffee-house debate in Vienna over our looming environmental crisis. The novel, Mountain Calls, is a travelogue of my last two significant trips to the Rax, both of which were in late winter. The original experiences of blizzard and snowstorm on the peak mingled with early Spring birdsong in the valley below are now overlaid with the experience of honing the passages of a book that give them second life. With a little effort however I can dig the original memories out from under the prose, and in doing so I am transported.

I start, cold, in the car park outside the guesthouse in the valley. Here I have to look up at the mountain wreathed in weather, an early thrush calling. I set off fast, to warm up, and arrive at the cable car ready for the three thousand feet ascent. The valley spreads itself out below, we punch through clouds, we arrive for the fitting of snowshoes and sticks. Hauling myself up the first slope towards the plateau, the interior, I prepare to abandon myself to the call of the mountain. For, yes, it has called me back again.

I walk, flomp, flomp, over creaking snow in the odd but exhilarating quadrupedal form of propulsion over the tops of small pines poking out of drifts, who knows, twelve feet deep in places. On a wind-scarred slope further on the snow has been scoured away for mosses and dried grasses to sustain a herd of deer; struggling up the next slope I glide over where it has been heaped high. I stop at the old guesthouse that was Sigmund Freud’s favourite summer-time retreat, now boarded up with shutters and a twenty-foot drift. From there it is time to head to the interior where what ski-tracks remain are being erased by fresh snowfall. I am completely alone now.

I stop, panting, the wet snow falling on a pine bough just warmed enough by a fitful sun to yield its fragrance. I have to get my bearings carefully now under the anonymous greyness of low cloud, then conscious of the big personalities of cloudbanks above me lit up here and there. I have come to listen, reminded that once in my home snow-shires near Oxford I had also stopped to listen and had been surprised by the sound of falling snow, then powdery and cold enough in a trillion tiny collisions to add up to a murmuring, the sound of love.

I have chosen a course to a pine on a ridge, perhaps over the heart of the mountain, a place where the story of its heart and the story of my heart would mingle. A crow, or perhaps an Alpine chough, calls in the silence. At the ridge the opposite peak of the Schneealpe fades in and out of view with the fury of the rising snowstorm; I have a glimpse of the landmark that will take me back to safety; I stop now for as long as cold and gathering dusk will permit. The grey light is brilliant, rounded, my eyes softly range over the endless monochrome expanse, over bush, tree and snow-mounds, snow-fields, snow-eddies. No words come to me, unlike the time in the valley at sunset when the peak loomed larger the longer I walked away from it but unable to prevent its call, its query, its charge. It has asked me to ask the world, what are we doing? The mountain knows us as the pinnacle of Nature, it knows us as the lord of all creatures, it knows us as the discoverers of unconditional love, so it asks us, what are you doing? Only here, with all trace of the human erased, can a human be asked this question; only in blizzard and snowstorm are the elemental forces of Nature powerful and dangerous enough to ask of the most powerful and dangerous animal, the human: what are you doing? What on Earth are you doing?

Mike King is a writer living in rural Suffolk, England. His environmental novel Mountain Calls was Mountain Calls Coverpublished in 2017. You can find his books and essays at and on Amazon. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, Ethical Capitalism. Photo by the author.

Herrington Cove

From the Cove I climbed
to the lookout at Bishop’s Head
with a view of gulls hovering,
an old weir pulsing
with herring, and all embraced
by a long curve of shoreline
as the sun shook out
its sparkling life —
blessing seals, the birds, and me.

Walked on to Hay Point,
absorbing its high cliffs
and ocean, the tangled pattern
of roots and stones,
until this couple blocked my way
with talk of tech clothes,
and trek poles — taking Herrington
as their backdrop for selfies.

Down past the trailhead,
an old woman, steadying
herself with cane and a yellow Lab,
told me she’d been to the Cove on Sunday
with her husband’s ashes —
they used to love sailing out
from Herrington to the open sea.

The clouds were spreading their shadows,
darkening the figures along the road
and the few fishing boats returning to harbor.
Unhurried, I stood at the shore
as the fog took the scene, listening
to the surf break over the rocky beach —
the clanging buoys coaxing the moon
from its lonely place
to light my way home.

By Ira Schaeffer

sea cliffs of Grand Manan

The places mentioned in this poem are to be found in Grand Manan (a quiet island off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada.

Photo of Grand Manan Island by Ed Corey

Discovering the Interior: Insight in the Heart of Alaska

This. This place. “The Interior” of Alaska. Gold country. Cold country. Whether traveling over or through it, regardless of the means of transport, one must admit that it covers a vast area. An area that is very largely devoid of infrastructure. There are few roads and most of them are rough, many not passable in winter and dubious in inclement weather. There are rivers and lakes and highlands that afford means of transport, but the continuity of these passages is convoluted. In some areas it is so dry as to be a veritable desert; a sub-arctic desert. In others there is so much water, the boggy marshlands seemingly have no end.

Vast open valley of AlaskaIt is a land of permafrost, of tundra and taiga, of long and bitterly cold winters countered with hot and dry summers. The environment can be so harsh and unforgiving that one simple mistake can be fatal. It is sparsely populated, and for all we can tell, has always been so. It has been described as “a hungry country.” Yet, this place is, in many ways, magical. In my time there, I often found myself on the edge of wonder, amazed at what the place can be when one stops to look.

The Interior is marvelous; subtle, unassuming, intricate, treacherous, bountiful, hungry, raw yet refined. When exploring it, it can seem both very old and very young at the same time. It is a place that I lived, either in or near, for over 20 years. That said there was a defining period in the not so distant past where I had a series of experiences that caused me to gain a more significant and deeper appreciation for it.

It was the spring of 2012. Life had just taken a major and mostly unexpected turn. I fled into the woods as has often been my wont when under duress. I went first to a favorite camping spot out on the Chatanika River with my stalwart companion, the dogface; an aging sled dog that had been with me on many adventures, through thick and thin. The next day brought reluctance to return home, questionable as my welcome seemed to me at that point, and so I turned left on the highway instead of right, and ventured further out. I ended up driving a road I had been by, but never had followed to its end and it was remarkable …

* * *

Driving over US Creek road into the Nome Creek valley is a genuinely spectacular drive, (though often a particularly nasty road) and one I had undertaken several times. I like the White Mountains in general and most places there, out the Steese Highway. But I had never taken that left turn after the bridge across Nome Creek to drive down to Ophir Creek. Maybe it was my state of mind, maybe it was the time of year, maybe there was something in the air. Who knows, but, on that morning, it was like driving back in time, crazy as that may sound.

The road is not quite in the highlands, but neither is it really down in the forest. It reminded me at first of being in Yukon-Charley National Preserve, a place that I am rather familiar with, but this was different. These grasslands felt, well, older somehow. And the further I went out towards Ophir Creek the more that feeling struck me. Something about the place seemed very old indeed. On a whim, seeing it there on the side of the road, I stopped at a trailhead and we hiked to Table Top mountain, through an old burn in the taiga (the land of little sticks) and up the great rocky promontory. The dogface chased the wind and the ptarmigan and looked even more like the wolves she was likely descended from. We were the only ones out there. The views from the top were spectacular and put the place in perspective. Aside from the narrow, gravel track we had been driving, there was no sign of human activity as far as the eye could see. It was wide open, untamed, rolling land; the Yukon-Tanana uplands, a remnant of the fabled Beringia. I stood there in the wind that blew across the distant grasslands and forested valleys and barren hills. A seemingly ancient wind that blew right through me, as if I were not even there.

* * *

I shook off my reverie, relocated and followed the rest of the trail back to the truck, and we drove the rest of the way on down to the Ophir Creek campground. We stopped only briefly as there were a few too many mosquitoes for my liking, despite it barely being early spring. An ominous sign to be sure. Rather, we headed back up the road to a pullout that offered a good lunch spot with a view. While there, the dogface discovered a trail that was mostly hidden in the tall grass just off the road and so, after lunch, we followed it.

Down it went, switch backing through the stunted, scraggly trees, and there, at the bottom of the hill, at a bend in the trail, was a grave. Marked with a simple wooden cross and bearing a name and a date. It looked newer than the date claimed and so I expected it had been reconstructed at some point. “Odd” I thought, and continued down the trail.

The trail ends at the creek and there stand the ruins of a small homestead. A sign described the frontier life of a solitary gold miner named “Two Step” Louie, the unfortunate (or perhaps not) fellow now laid to rest back up the trail. Turns out, old “Two Step” was one of those guys that came to the Great Land seeking his fortune; judging by the serenity of the place where he chose to spend his last days I would say he found it, but perhaps not in the way he was expecting. Funny how things turn out sometimes.

There was no boomtown out Nome Creek way. It was no Klondike or Coldfoot. Even the little dredge that once churned up the world back upstream was short lived. Clearly there was gold, but only so much apparently. “Two Step” found a place to call home, a place that he could mine on a seasonal basis and support a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and gardening. His is an amazing spot, at a small bend in the creek with stunning views of the valley to the south. I am no expert, but I do have some experience with old miner’s cabins and this one – this place – did not have that air of squalor or desperation. It was not just a shelter. “Two Step” lived here and you can still sense that in the place.

I guess as both he and those that laid him to rest sensed, even in his passing, he still lives here. He always will. I did not know him, nor could I have; he died long before I was born. I had never heard of him and had no idea that this place was here before I stumbled onto it. Yet in that place, after driving that road and climbing that hill and seeing that country I understood.

  * * *

This is the Interior and there is no other place like it. “Two Step” may have found that, I do not really know. I do know that through him – and that place that he had called home – I certainly did. I think I found a lot of things out there that day, not the least of which was a way back “home”; back to my self. As I noted earlier, life had recently been turned a bit upside-down and I was unsure how to manage it. Something happened to me out there though that told me I had to find that out along the way. I had to discover it for myself. So too with life in general; we all have to make our own way and figure it out as we go along.

I am not going to tell you in any more detail how to find the place. I do not think I could really. Sure I could give you directions to go see old “Two Step” and his home, but to find the place? Well, I believe that can only happen through self-discovery. Like so many things really.

Christopher Houlette is an aspiring writer, baker, archaeologist, and once Alaskan wanderer. He has a fondness for small towns and big rivers, high mountains and wooded vales, open expanses and clear skies, and is primarily an observer and ponderer of his place in that world. He currently lives in east central Arizona with his Wife and Boy, 2 dogs, and 6 chickens. He sporadically keeps a blog, which you can find at Photo by the author.

A Spell on the River

There’s a nice place to rest just past the river ford;
A vast pool of dark water where pine timbers moored.
In this peaceful space within the crisp air of Fall
The woods whisper where log driver’s voices once roared.

Near shore, deck of cull logs on the forest floor lay
Midst moss, duff, and bracken of woodland bouquet.
Those that have fallen yield themselves to the others
Whose spirits take root among the greens of decay.

Below the mountain peak where the river is born,
Ringing axes and windfall begotten slopes worn.
Streams become artists cascading the granite slides
To sculpt ancient bedrock that concedes chance to mourn.

And now the autumn air induces change in leaves;
Descending from the boughs the chill zephyr bereaves.
The fallen slip by absent any trace of green;
Departed from above; yet no barren limb grieves.

Accordingly seasons make a river fickle;
Spring snowmelts are torrents to Fall’s placid trickle.
Yet through ages of seasons its course has forged forth;
Cold reaper of leaves spares the river the sickle.

It seems this tranquil pool portends a certain end;
As siren songs rise from beyond the river bend.
Perchance the stopping here was seeking more than rest,
And been a spell shorter than some fate would intend.

There’s a mill town below that I’ve seen on my map;
The river rushes there tumbling through gorge and gap.
My soles long to saunter in the presence of path;
To amble beaten trails beyond the waters lap.

This rest in brisk air has brought upon a shiver
And conjured up thoughts that cause heartstrings to quiver.
From here I travel onward beholden to fate,
And under a spell that was cast by the river.

By T. John Bartlett

River flowing over rocks

T. John Bartlett is an emerging writer from upstate New York. His work has been featured as a winner of the 2018 contest and has poetry forthcoming in various literary journals and reviews. In addition to reading and writing, he is an avid hiker that particularly enjoys exploring the Adirondack Mountains.

Photo of Rockwell Falls on the Hudson River in the Adirondack Mountains of New York by Colin Young