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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).



   for Ian



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