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David Taylor




back when,


if and when,


maybe we begin

to see this

forest, grassland, rock,

soil, birds, bugs—

fauna in the full array,

flora in all fragrance,

fire, rain, and seasons,

even sky and stars

not as pieces or parts

but a brimming whole,

the vast and ample why,

pushing our words past

their definitions

to recovery.

II At the Public Meeting

I speak for the forests.
I SPEAK for the forests.
I speak FOR the forests.
I speak for THE forests.
I speak for the FORESTS.

All through April and May,

wind blew through pines.


The last full snow was December.
Now in May,
nothing measurable for months,
officials have turned to assessing fire.

First, noting it by acres “lost,”
naming it,
numbers of homes lost and firefighters,
wind speed, fuels.
How long since the last sight of water?

A reporter in Phoenix
said one year to replace a home
and thirty to replace the beauty,
the Prescott fire skirting the town,
only five homes lost.

Lucky, a hotshot said,
just damn lucky.
Night killed the winds.

The fires
in the White mountains
and we search for those to blame.

All the trees and grasses are lost
without fire,
the ponderosas,
gamble oak,
squirrel tail, blue gramma, yarrow, thistle,
and all of it is lost with it,
doghair thickets,
fuel loads
scorched soil.

We loathe what we love,
preferring images of forests
even to the fire in our bellies;
behaved they are burns,
wild ones, we call fire.

“This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine.” (traditional Christian children’s song)


When the scientists said ecosystem,

when Forest Service or BLM talked about cap size,

when the environmentalists said nature,

when the fire experts said interface,

when the poets wrote about beauty,

they all meant pines.

When the word restoration came up,

most often,

people meant pines.


Last night, the coyote barked twice,
and its long howls began after
the waxing moon rose over Forty-nine Mountain,
four times within the hour.
From the south rims of Brannigan Park,
its call stirred what was left in the dogs to bark and howl;
the elk then raising their heads,
did not move.
The Angus calves nestled deeper into the herd.

At night,
almost always cool and clear,
sound waves work the park
like a Buddhist bowl-chime,
waves intersecting waves.

Waking around midnight has become ritual for me.
For the first time in my life,
after a year of watching stars,
the Big Dipper spinning around the North Star,
I know the rotation of days
not by clock or calendar,
but by sight,
even sound,
without being able to say why.


The elk herd comes in the evening,
sixty or seventy surfacing from the forests,
and browse with the cattle throughout Brannigan Park,
neither seeming concerned about the other.
The elk will remain all night,
the cattle returning to the feedlot at dusk.

In the morning,
the cattle range,
and the elk blend back into the ponderosas.

I have walked their trail before,
through the pines to each cattle pond,
and now that those are dry,
to the potholes in the basalt flow ledge,
which even now,
six months since the last rain,
still have water.

In the soil beside the pothole,
thousands of obsidian chips
in the dry clay,
ancient, human home.

I heard the coyote,
the dogs not long after,
and I see constellations now,

before living here,
I saw nothing but stars.


On our hike
a good friend
told me he no longer believes in forestry,
preferring tarot and astrology,
Emerson’s intuition,
or Neo-platonism,
even the unfolding of Boehme’s god
to experts
and management practices.

“Things themselves say as much as any science,
more than even most poetry.”

“Whatever we’re saying will not last as long
as the space we’re describing,
even our own.”

I read that some know what the forests were like,
by the placement of old-growth stumps,
the abundance of grasses,
and descriptions of early explorers—
“open park-like stands.”

My friend showed the card “the Dancer at the Center of the World,”
said nothing.

Things are bigger than our ideas,
their relationships, wilder yet,
and gifts of perception, of language we offer—
data or metaphor—
as we forget what we think we know,
trusting in
and listening to
something deeper
than any knowledge,
finding the wildness
we want
on the edges of all our voices.


David Taylor is currently working with the Center for Environmental Philosophy and teaching as an adjunct in the Philosophy Department at the University of North Texas in Denton. He has published poetry and creative non-fiction essays in such journals as ISLE, Southern Poetry Review, Environmental History, and Mountain Gazette. He edited South Carolina Naturalists: An Anthology, 1700-1860 (USC Press, 1998) and co-authored Lawson's Fork: Headwaters to the Confluence (Hub City Press, 2000).
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