Sometimes moving through landscape can become art.
In the mid-1970s, David (aka Dale) Zieroth was working as a park naturalist in Kootenay National Park when he hiked on an overnight to Floe Lake with some of his Parks Canada colleagues.
The poem that came out of that trip was published in his second book of poetry Mid-River (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1981). I subsequently published it in my anthology Tales from the Canadian Rockies (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1984).
We climbed through summer towards the lake
as if the lake were all
the promises we needed, climbing hard
through the larkspur and the
elderberry, friends ahead and friends
behind, the world in order
coming with us to the lake.
At the switchbacks we met
the first of the strange new flowers coming
through the snow as if this were
the very beginning of life.
Under each tree, where the snow had gone,
we watched the spreading circle of spring
and looked into the meadows and into
the trees where each man heard inside himself
words he had never heard
before. Until the lake
which put an end to words.
The mountain stands up
on the broken feet of its glacier,
tosses rock, then ice down into the lake where the water
moves like the breaking of mirrors,
or birds jumping into flight, ptarmigans
catching on the edge of the glacial wind
that sucks me out of the scrawny trees, the broken
dwarfs of treeline
and only the lake is
approachable, at the shore where the harmonicas
and fires are already warming up,
the noises of tent and pack as the mountain booms again,
fills the camp with
silence as white and endless as the
cornice that dives for the lake
this is the place to sleep
where the lake hugs the Rock Wall and is
content to be small and green and ice
nine months of the year, our dreams will
scale the face of the mountain all night long
this is how we will connect and disappear
not falling but
flying, hooked together in
hand to hand combat with the rocks up above
the ice floes that sail like swans
across the lake and past the dreamers who are
stirring in the yellow dawn, tasting the stars in their coffee.
Coming back, we begin by forgetting,
where we are going now there is no room
for perfection. Once there was
a bird to remember, the way it flew, the call
it made, another time
the colour of a tree. Or the young men
standing all along the shore
feeling as strong and as wild in their minds as
the water itself. These things
are making room for the highway that is
a dark line on the mountain.
We are half-way back and the loss
comes down like rain. I have found
another place to leave behind like a home
and only these friends will bind me to it, this
smell of rock on their hands, these men
in the same rain all around me
like the shy sound of wind across water.
David Zieroth currently lives in North Vancouver. He is the author more than a dozen books of poetry, including The Fly in Autumn, which received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry 2009, and How I Joined Humanity at Last, the 1998 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize winner.
David graciously gave me permission to publish “Floe Lake” in this blog. You can find more about his work at http://d-zieroth.squarespace.com/books.
Floe Lake photo by Brian Patton