Spring/Summer 2007, Volume 23.3


Photo of Terry Gifford.

Terry Gifford

Terry Gifford is founding Director of the International Festival of Mountaineering Literature, Visiting Professor at the University of Chichester, UK, and Profesor Honorario at the University of Alicante, Spain. His books include The Unreliable Mushrooms: New and Selected Poems (Redbeck, 2003) and Reconnecting With John Muir (University of Georgia Press, 2006).


Climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon

—for Jeff McCarthy

It was how we came upon that canyon
resting between winter and spring,
snow late and deep in the shade,
sun working on the reddening rocks
farside, rising to Utah heat innocent
as yet on edges that cut summer shimmers.

No handcarts, no tablets we’d own to yet,
although we shared something unspoken
to even be here, post-holing off the road,
"first this season" to our rock route,
you said, in Little Cottenwood Canyon
stepping off snow to a cold, sharp ridge.

Happy for you to lead, I fisted perfect cracks
in the Promised Land I’d heard about
in England, looked out across the canyon
deepening pitch by pitch until I, too,
was a member of the choir in that tabernacle
pioneered by legendary elders with names like

Royal Robbins, George Lowe, Mark McQuarrie.
When McQuarrie fell, the rock cut his rope,
unforgiving as it ever was and will be lest
we lose our respect for this land and its laws.
"He died near the door of the Mormon Archives"
I read in one of the books of our archives.

Even next day in Big Cottonwood Canyon,
when I was too fat, frankly, to get off the ground,
first route, something easier was found
for the sinner losing respect for his body
but welcomed into this light-hearted community
that would deny it was any kind of a religion.


Watching Bald Eagles on my 59th Birthday

—for Michael and Valerie Cohen

was present enough

you’d think:

leaving the cabin

earlyish, treading

granite gravel

high on hope,

the bird hunter

a year older

low on ambition

back sliding

up the needle slope

firm on the friction

of the bald dome.

Present enough

the old eagle

on its white snag

postage stamp still

eye level

with eye and

its treetop

twig-tangle stirring.

Then greeting

or warning

or hunger,

it throws back

its shaggy head

beak open, emits

four needle stabs,

spaced icy cries

echoing over the lake.

Then, see, the lake

is green now,

not night blue,

in its glacial bowl

moraine boulder blocked

spotted with pines.

More reveals more:

the redwing blackbird

pings its three bells.

Above cars coming

into the wooden town

a woodpecker

plays its xylophone

up the scale

and human voices

share this birthday,

rising from the still lake:

families boat fishing.

Even the dead juniper

mimes its many armed

death drama,

while lodgepole pines

smoke their pollen

on a new breeze.

So many gifts

unwrapping each other

before breakfast.


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