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Taking Possession

David Byrne of the Talking Heads Signs His Book of Photographs

In a Green, Wet World

At Jasper Ridge, Early One November Morning

Late Season at Lassen

Water Buffalo


On Night Paths

The Heron

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Water Buffalo

Crashing leaves
cracking branches
creekbed catches
mighty beast
attention snatched
my foot missteps
I lose the path

Sudden stillness
incoherent cry
water buffalo
seeking pools
another cry
"Oh, never mind!" Buffalo shifts shape
aging hippie
long grey beard
long grey hair
tied in tangled ponytail
huge swath of overalls
blue-faded sheath stretching
over bulging belly
caught in my gaze
panic-wide eyes
one foot up

Don't alarm
the mighty beast
another step
another step
leave the creature be
and left alone
lurches over rocks
seeking water

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I ran at dusk in the Stanford Foothills in mid-autumn. The cold air pooled in the ravines and canyons, while the ridges still basked in the warmth of the day. In the cool air, the tar weed was fragrant, mixing with the soft, thick smell of drying grass and evening dampness. As I ran down narrow trails, I plunged into that cool, thick air, then climbed into dry warmth, only to drop into the coolness again. Grass rasped against my legs as I ran; the odd thistle startling me with its hollow, rattling flower husks. Best of all were the occasional great horned owls hooting low in the trees of the canyons and the ever- present rustle of voles scurrying invisibly toward safety away from my footfalls.

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On Night Paths

We walk under a full moon, Diana and I,
on the last warm night of an Indian summer
that has stretched into the abbreviated days of December.
From high on the ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains,
we peer out through the dark Douglas fir boughs
and hickory oak branches
upon a palely glowing sea of fog
shrouding the valley and bay below
as if the Pacific now lapped against the slopes.
Our path leads us through dense, tree-canopied darkness
and blindingly moon-washed fields of dry grass.
The first gentle rains have dampened
the leaf litter and bay leaves;
damp forest smells gather in cool hollows.
We brush against a sharp-edged odor that
carry me back to childhood explorations twenty years ago.
The pungent smell has no power to tug Diana
into remembering a Georgia childhood,
but the path we follow takes us into a memory together
of a night several fleeting seasons past,
a deep, bay-scented darkness,
the faint starlight stolen by the leaves above us,
stumbling footsteps across a shallow stream,
balancing on bay branches laid across the water.

Tonight the stream is dry and we cross heedlessly,
climbing the other bank until we stand
before the boll of an ancient oak.
Though I have walked this path
a hundred times before,
this night, I know the elder oak for the first time.
Diana and I close our eyes,
run our fingers over velvet moss,
across deeply fissured wood camouflaged beneath,
and against rough bark stretching to the sky.
I put my nose to the cool, velvet softness
to breathe deeply the heavy green smell
and listen for the secret slow pulse
hidden under soft green fur.

When the green cloak releases us,
we step through tree-canopied darkness
and blindingly moon-washed fields
until the night path leads us home again.

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The Heron
The other day, I was rushing home and already thinking about evening tasks. I glanced at the field near noisy and traffic-snarled Sand Hill Road, at the edge of the Stanford Campus and saw two posts a short distance from the bike path--one a surveying stake with a bright orange flag tied to the top and the other grey and rather thicker. I was so intent on getting home that I had almost hurtled past the fence at the edge of the field before the grey post stretched its neck. I stopped just short of the fence and looked back. The yellow eye of a great blue heron caught me in its gaze. This meeting was not my first encounter with the heron; it often stands as a sentinel near the bike path or even the busy road, always watching me as I pedal past while it hunts for gophers or perhaps ground squirrels. As I stood, holding my breath, the heron slowly turned its head to look at me without moving, its great sharp beak slicing the air. Small feathers on its long neck and breast fluttered in the slight breeze. We stared at each other for a long time before I moved on, as I had with the deer. Perhaps it is the same heron that cried out hoarsely as it slowly flew over my house at dawn one morning last week. I don't know if the great blue heron is anyone else's good- luck symbol, but I always feel blessed by the heron.

Spilt Ink logo by Brian Kunde. Used by permission.

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Last modified, Jan. 22, 2001