To The Right

In America, we drive on the right side of the road.  Also, people here generally walk on the right side of the sidewalk, busy hiking trails, even grocery store isles. When I walk along the trails around a nearby lake, I keep to the right side of the path.  If I have the trail to myself, I walk right down the middle as if I owned the place.

What is your neighborhood like during the pandemic? Where I am I have noticed giving another pedestrian 6 feet is seen as a courtesy; in the grocery store, offices, parks, etc., keeping your distance is a sign of good manners. It is awkward or rude if a person stands too close to another. Feathers get ruffled.

Earlier this year, before the snowpack in the mountains could build and the rains of the Northwest La Nina winter began, Padden Gorge Trail was dry and quiet. The creek was all but dried up. The cold air chased away many birds and I experienced the eerie sensation of standing in a silent forest.

To The Right
second draft

The woods are quiet today
I do not hear the rustle of a bird
no wind playing at the leaves
no foraging of a rodent
or the panting of a dog
Padden Creek is down to its
late summer trickle
Everything is off

My ears reach for the sound of people
at the lake trail on end with mine
I hear no one
I haven’t been sleeping lately
For a moment I am dream walking
zombified in this quiet wood
with no direction, no purpose
No others to use as a reference
or provide a sense of direction
No validation of movement
or placement

I walk down the canyon trail in silence.
surrounded by silence

Then–they find me
The crunching roar of off-road bike tires
approach me from behind
I move to the right
The joggers with focused steps
and controlled pants
I move to the right
Two dogs and two owners
come at me head-on
I move to the right
Facedown each time to make sure
my breath does not mix with theirs
Behind me I hear the steps of another walker
I move to the right
I’m a slow walker compared to others
I know this walker will pass me
I wait
no walker
Then turn to look
No one

There are two places on these trails
where the sound tricks the ear
My own steps sound like another
getting ready to pass
but it is just me
and my steps
echoing off the walls
of the thick forest

How nice of me to give the same
courtesy I give others
unknowingly
yet, still as sweet

A Noisey Padden Creek

Feature Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

Poem: A Nod to Frost

 

A Nod to Frost

by Shannon P. Laws

 

The woods are lovely dark and deep
There are hidden treasure chests to keep

A stranger blocks my trail so narrow
the shadow falls once pierced by sparrow

Feeding on gnats in the twilight spaces
I see my face on the faces

Along the ways of search and find
great friends there are of every kind

 

 

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Story Weaver

kermit typing

Went for a long walk today.  This year April in the Northwest is warmer than normal.  The tulips lining the yards of my neighbors have already risen, bloomed and most are now just stalks of green.  Apple and cherry blossoms line the street to the trail head.

Digging into the trail I heard the stream dance along the river rock, chime down a salmon ladder. Stretching my legs up a short hill I found a small field of shaggy grass, heavy-wet from morning dew, promising a slip if I step without respect.

It was a good day to be a seagull, or a kite.  A nice wind for flying.  I see the white on grey bird coasting with no owner, no string.

Reaching Fairhaven I see them–all sorts of people.  Tourist, bike riders, locals, musicians, people in cars, trucks, on motorcycles…PEOPLE!  More importantly, characters.

When I walk, I write stories.  As an avid people-watcher I dream up all sort of lives for the strangers I see.  Folks that walk by offering a snippet of conversation is a tantalizing treat for my imagination.  My favorite pairing is to place an unlikely drama with a “normal” or plain looking citizen.  For example, the 57 year old woman walking her tiny dog use to be an assassin, not just any kind of course, her niche was scientists.  Scientists who were on the cusp of a discovery that might hurt the profits of a corporation, a government or perhaps another competing scientist now her paid targets.  Today, she has changed her identity, put on 40 lbs and lives a simple life in an ocean side town. Then, she falls for a WWU science professor. You know, something like that…

The whole experience of story weaving reminded me of a car trip.  I was a 20 year old intern at the time earning my vocational degree in Television Broadcasting.  My boss loaned me out to another freelancer who was doing a story on search and rescue dogs that work at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort off Interstate 90, just about an hour east of Seattle.  Our car had three people in it; two of the people were complete strangers.  I saw it as an opportunity to talk shop.

IDA-kitchen-day-interior-lighting-diagram
Lighting Diagram (interior)

The cameraman / producer had a great answer to one of my questions.  I asked, what’s the best way to improve field production skills? He shared that he constantly thinks of a place as a scene.  He wonders the best place for a tripod, lighting, angles, he considers what and how much footage will be needed to edit the segment, B roll, etc.  Everywhere he goes he travels with a story weaver, not the software, but an internal writer that’s always “ON”.  He started out just doing it as a lighting exercise, and then the habit grew into a story telling technique.  The camera is the eye of the viewer.  Telling the story effectively, moving the characters within the space, across a room, down a street, from one scene to another are essential to most media, TV, film, stage, AND within a book.

Shot-Plans-sample4-580x318
camera, lights, & character diagram

The book as an entertainment “space” has a challenge.  How does the writer make those pages come alive, create a picture in the mind of the reader, or better yet, give enough information to allow the reader to create their own version of the world?  This is my greatest challenge.  -SPL

 

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Poem: Voice on the Trail

Copy of Picture 177

Voice on the Trail

—with a nod to poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)

All the voices of the Wood called “Shannon!”

But it was soon solved; it is nothing, it is not

my real name.

My real name is written on a stone kept warm by eternal

embers I am still too cold to hold.

Words like Real and Endure

Sound like Health and Hell

Then I see what is calling, it was the road

I traveled, miles behind, warning me of the FORK

The sound bounces forward, then back, right-side-down

warns of mud ahead―not to me, but to anyone.

And at last I saw where the road lies wide,

and clear orchard rows, easy fruit and bundled grass

roll along a tan, green and blue landscape.

Not for me. Not for me. Not for me.

I came into my clear being uncalled, alive, and sure

of all but what I see.

Nothing speaking to me, none know my real name―

not the owl, the fish or the elk, but I offer myself

to the strangers and it is well.

Strangers we are.

I know them all.

-SPL

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Whatcom Creek Fire

On June 10, 1999 around 3:25 P.M., a 16 inch fuel line owned by the Olympic Pipe Line Company ruptures spilling over 277,000 gallons of gasoline into Whatcom Creek.  The volatile fuel explodes killing three people.  The massive fireball sent smoke 30,000 feet into the air, visible from Anacortes to Vancouver!

One and a half miles of earth was scorched, and 25 acres destroyed in the explosion.  It was witnessed that the river was so full of gasoline, it had turned pink.
Residents nearby called into 911 complaining of an overwhelming smell of fuel, but by this time it was too late.  At 4:55 P.M., approximately and hour and a half after the estimated time of the pipe rupture, the river was set on fire!
Map of Whatcom Creek’s path (in red) that flows
through downtown Bellingham, and into the bay.
The fire ignited half a mile before the I-5 underpass
just to the east of downtown.

Two young boys, lighting off firecrackers nearby, as it was close to the Fourth of July, were playing near the river.  These innocent children are heroes!  If they had not accidentally set the fire off when they did, the gas would of continued under an interstate highway, directly into downtown, spilling into the busy Bellingham Bay and marina, with potential deaths and injuries in the thousands. (see map, above)

On June 18, 1999, Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmendson said, “The cause of the fire was the fuel released from the Olympic pipeline. The fact that it was ignited was inevitable. With the thousands and thousands of gallons of fuel that were proceeding down Whatcom Creek, had the ignition not taken place where it did and at the time it did, the damage to this community and the loss of life would have been far greater. These boys completely, without notice or any awareness, were involved in an action that ended up being heroic for the city of Bellingham.”

FOURTEEN YEARS LATER
Hiking the Whatcom Creek trail today, it’s hard to believe that such a hellacious event happened here.  If you look for it, you can find burn scars on the trees and see the restoration efforts by the city to bring back salmon and other species to this precious stretch of land.
Nature finds a way to heal and recover.
Smoke Rising from the Creek

The creek is a special place for me, as are most rivers, and woodland areas.  I find the forest such a peaceful location for a “technical detox”; a place to clear my mind and sort things out.  I feel fortunate to live in a city that makes nature trails such a priority.  Thanks to this trail system I am an easy walk to Whatcom Creek.  Although I have only lived near the creek for a year, I am encouraged by the recovery efforts the city has made.

This last Saturday at the Writers International Network Literary Festival in Richmond, B.C., I read my poem “River Ink” inspired by Whatcom Creek.  The Festival’s theme this year is “Peace”.  I shared this history of the creek with the audience.

before/after

William Wordsworth, a Romantic poet, said it best, “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”

 The creek is green, luscious with all types of trees, bushes, wildlife, and fish. Nature recovers, finds a way.
Now, simple folk like myself, who just want to recover from a hectic day can stroll along this peaceful river
with the encouraging visual reminder that life continues, even after it seems all is lost.
***
My thoughts today are with the family members of those three lives,
lost on that fateful day, in June 1999.
May your hearts recover from the lost of such young life.
Rest in Peace

Liam Wood, 18, and Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas, both age 10.

***
A Falls Along the Upper Portion of Whatcom Creek

City of Bellingham restoration update:

http://www.cob.org/services/environment/restoration/cemetery-creek.aspx

History Link Sequence of Events:

http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5468

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PAD: Life Hike

Day 4 of Writers Digest Poem A Day~
I will call it:  LIFE HIKE
Hiking a broken trail
beneath green branches
fanned out over me
blocking the sky
how close to life it feels
Hard walk atop embedded rocks
soles rub exposed roots
soil no longer covers 

sunlight filters through
spotlights on ancient ferns

Head turns right
an opening sits plumb
Door to a perspective
not yet known
Curiosity rules here

Veer towards new
step over a fallen tree
through ferns rib high
unexpected vista fills the frame

Another world
trails smooth and gentle
a river glides along
wide high blue open
…the easy way

Why have I stayed in the forest
stomping atop rocks that twist my ankles
when open fields were just off the path?

*For today’s prompt, write a poem about finding something unexpected.   Robert Lee Brewer
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides/poetry-prompts/2011-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-day-4

Grape Pop

My husband, Christopher, has a wonderful story from his youth about a time he would have given anything for an ice cold grape pop. I was thinking about his little adventure while working outside in the sun the other day, myself needing to quench my thirst. It brought a smile to my face and wanted to share:
One summer while visiting his Grandma’s house outside of Burney California, he decided to go for a short hike up a large hill anchored on the back end of her property line. Grandma Conrad’s land was nicely positioned up against Shasta National Forest. The pine filled forest is beautiful with an easy to climb terrain. His “short hike” ended up being a four hour episode in dangerous 100 degree weather! In addition, thinking he’d only be out for about an hour, he brought no water with him.grape downloadWhen he tells the story he honestly wonders how he found his way back at all. He had suffered dehydration and got direction turned. A twelve year old hiking alone in the woods, with no water or map was a recipe for disaster. Lucky for him, Grandma had a beacon in her kitchen. Like a lighthouse safely guiding ships to harbor, her fridge was full of his favorite Crush grape pop. All he could think about was that chilled purple drink as he tromped through the pine needle and dust covered trails. The bottles called to him, guiding him home. He says he remembers just thinking about nothing but grape pop, to the point of saying the words out loud as he walked “Grape pop! Grape pop!” When he walked through Grandma’s door, he bypassed his worried family altogether, making a beeline for the fridge, downing two pops before answering any questions!map images (1)

Of course there are many times in life when we get direction turned. Either due to poor planning or being in new territory, unknown elements stifling common sense. Keeping ourselves focused on the goal at hand can also be like a guide to our “grape pop”.

 

That day while riding back to the lodge for my next
assignment, I had no immediate crises on hand except thirst. “Grape pop!” I said to myself, verbally illustrating the level of my thirst. Saying it perhaps in a delirious state of mind due to the hot sun, or just out of respect for a courageous little boy who found his way by keeping his eyes on a dream.