Winter at the River

or Walk Ten-Thousand-and-One

Listen, read, or listen and read along.

We stand in fine and falling snow
dimpling the vitreous calm facade
of my ancient virescent river.
Its captured waters silently plod
northwest; inexorably away.

The dog has paused his joyful romp,
quit rolling in the ermine crust
the world has grown since late last night,
to watch and listen, as I must,
to a world so still it must have a say.

Ten thousand times and maybe more;
— this is not exaggeration —
this ancient road has been my route;
decades in the same location;
south edge of my ancestral briar patch.

This dog with me — or who seems to be —
is an independent sort,
nosing every track and trail,
reading every personal report
of critters he thinks he’d like to catch.

Now he sits with me in reverie
as if he knows to listen as well,
for what the planet has to say,
to what the silence has to tell. 

The only sounds are small collisions
of tiny flakes against my shoulders.
Their frosty brethren purl and knit
afghans for the shoreline boulders.

Gravity summons them from the sky.
Light as dust and indiscernible
against their leaden, lowering source
they nonetheless are adding up;
sheer numbers are their winning force.
As we watch, they begin to grow in size;

start to tumble, whirl and flutter,
peregrinate, glide and hover
each one taking its sweet time
to add itself to last night’s cover
which they will finish later on today.

Under coruscating weight
and caught up in the river’s vortex,
firs and cedars wear hoary cloaks,
draping branches and riven cortex.
Wooden fingers reach above the bay.

We came earlier upon two elk
standing above the river’s edge,
shy and shaggy, winter-ready.
They took exception to us and fled.

I call him back — good dog! — no chase.
The cows bolt uphill to safety,
as if the river is a trap;
though I’ve seen them bobbing ’cross it,
faster than I could make the lap;
they swim with power and grace,

then clamber up the steep far bank
and cross the tracks, hopefully unharmed
by passing behemoth freight trains.
If they fail, ravens and coyotes swarm.

It seems nothing goes unused
even in these bleak winter deaths
other purposes are served
though I have talked to engineers
who wish that they could somehow swerve.
For such feelings, they are excused.

The rail is quiet this winter day
As is the highway up the hill
The cultured world seems to be on hold
It’s engines temporarily still

The dog and I stay tuned.
For what? Just the lovely sound
of snowflakes landing where they will.
If that is all, it is enough.
We listen until we have our fill,
yet the stillness is unruined.

We resume our walk, the dog and I,
He reverts to rambunctious ways.
A lone raven finally breaks the spell —
ravens like to have their say.

Like a black rag fluttering on a string,
he rows across the sky.
He seems to like his own rough squawk.
I can’t understand what he has to say;
I only know that he loves to talk;
and perhaps he’s thinking he can sing.

We tramp on home — the dog leads on —
climb the hill the elk ascended;
follow the winding wooded way
to our beginning. Our walk is ended.

But, I’ve packed something from the shore;
a chunk of peace big as the sky
from which snowflakes are descending
and knowledge that under all our noise
lies lovely silence still, unending.
The dog and I will soon go back for more.