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Spring/Summer 2007, Volume 23.3


Terry GiffordPhoto of 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 wed 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 Id 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
                   youd 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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