A group of +2,000 year old giant sequoias in the Giant Forest (Sequoia National Park) threatened by fire and cedar bark beetle (picture by author)

Giant sequoias, ultra cyclists, and cedar bark beetles

Garrett’s voicemail says to meet him “in the meadow right underneath the giant rock that is El Capitan.” It’s the first left turn as you enter Yosemite Valley, he says, just across a bridge, over the Merced River. I meet him there at 2:45, underneath three thousand feet of granite. We can’t see anyone climbing, but Garrett hears them, and then I do too.

“It took us almost as many centuries to climb up this rock as it did to reach the moon,” he says, adjusting his hat and sunglasses as he stares up at the wall. I’m trying to…


Searching for light in the Sierra Nevada understory

Day 1: Auburn — Elevation 1234

The Sierra Nevada: the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.

I think about John Muir’s 150-year-old words, from his book My First Summer in the Sierra, as I come towards the end of a 4,000 mile journey across America, in search of the divinely beautiful. In search of, in WS Merwin’s words, a bit of the earth’s surface, maybe as small as three acres, to love and protect.

Finally, ten days after leaving New York, I am in Carson City, Nevada, approaching the state line of California, towards my humble home town of Auburn…


searching for three acres

for years, poet laureate WS Merwin dreamed of restoring a bit of the earth’s surface. he searched for it across the world, and finally settled on three acres, in Hawaii, which he purchased for $60k in 1977.

holding the Essential WS Merwin book of poetry, i set out to search for my own 3 acres, across 3000 miles of the oldest transcontinental road in America.

4200 miles later, the road still hasn’t ended. and it certainly hasn’t been straightforward. but it has been full of wonder and occasional discovery.

the poems / pictures in this publication are pieces of that road.


the beginning

is not always easy to see

the first page of a notebook
might not be the first
pages torn out
words lost
emotions that couldn’t be described
memories that have long ago faded
road trips that began generations before

even the seedling that breaks ground
belongs to a forest of a family
towering above
holding the ground below


the battle

the storm had ended
the snow had fallen
the leaves now held the weight
and the beauty
as black re-emerged along Lincoln Highway
towards the unknown

the headstones are frozen
their morning shadows outlining last night’s untouched snow
underneath silent white oaks and red-barked cypress
old enough to remember
how the 10000 fell
how the battle for a nation was won
and lost
how the words of a president rose
and fell

four score and seven years ago
a young boy was turning four
the same age as the Great Depression
one decade and two years later
nearly the same…


August 10

it’s a day we’ll never forget
a 911 of the land
of the forest
of the fields

derecho
it’s a word we never knew
as if created for a devastation
that couldn’t be described

a wall of wind
100 miles long
80 miles deep
140 miles per hour fast
marching across Nebraska
collapsing into Iowa
flattening the red oak
the white ash
the black walnut
mulching millions of maze rows
mangling massive silos
uprooting entire houses
crushing a man on his bike

the most expensive tornado in history
seven billion in damage
of what can be counted

never before

and hopefully never again
but even as i say the words
they feel fragile
as if unsure they will be able to stand
in the world they have found themselves in


bald eagle

we almost killed the bald eagle
industry / efficiency / ddt / mono-everything

but she fought back
soaring over Iowa fields now

too beautiful to capture
even in a camera

wings spanning across what is
and what could be

golden beak pointing north
eyes looking down, asking

what else have you almost killed
what else will you allow to fight back


the good life

the green sign above the Missouri river says
Nebraska… the good life

each town feels counties apart
dotted with single story homes
a single blinking light
and a single silo of grain
taller than the empire state
Country Partners Cooperative: Together we can

the silo silhouettes in the rearview for an entire Coltrane track
the flat road perfectly parallel with the train tracks
tied across the land — connecting the dots — bringing the pieces together
Union Pacific: Building America

the train steams by
the white pick-up waves — then the red — then the blue
you finally wave back
…the good…


montana mountains

we are now in the mountains
and the mountains are in us

towering cliffs of red granite
puncturing the heavens with pinnacle peaks

soaring columns of golden clay
scaling to stories too high to read

moonlit crowns of ice and snow
telling tales of death and defeat

sunkissed passes of morning delight
whispering melodies of discovery and light

dripping snow from families of fir
disappearing into glaciers

lowly rivers beneath bridges and feet
quietly remembering how it all came to be


arriving

it’s been 7 days 12 states nearly 2700 miles
and you still haven’t found the forest

it’s been 36 years 5 countries and nearly 2700 tears
and you still haven’t found her

just 3 acres is all i need, the poet said
and made a life of it

meanwhile, the hard horned sheep climbs
the snow dusted rocky mountain

meanwhile, the elk herd migrates
across the frozen valley floor

meanwhile, the great basin nuzzles his head
through the thick powder of snow

meanwhile, the grey wolf stands alone
underneath the dark eternal pine

regarding you
before continuing on

benje williams

“it is common to take a dog for a walk, it is less common to take a dream for a walk” || @amalacademy + @understory cofounder | nature novel in progress

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