America's Shadows

In the strengthening morning sunlight I carried Strongland up the mountain 

Accompanied by our silent American Shadows we gained elevation east out from the loosely-folded grain covered contours of the Wallowa Valley intersected with the bright glint torn seams of snow-melt streams etched into the amber and sage grasses, carrying forth the earth’s blood to thirsty cattle and fields and small towns below

We had left Georgia behind, exchanged her sweltering heat and cumulus clouds for a low sky awash with the colors of steelhead pushing upriver 

And red clay ground fine as porcelain slip for basalt and snow

And the Muscogee Creek Branch homelands for the lands of Treaty and Non-treaty Nez Perce Native American’s and a Statue of Chief Joseph the Younger and his words of peace and desperation

And plantation mansions for settler's decaying schoolhouses and a home made with salvaged boards from Appalachia, and juniper harvested from its site on the mountain


Splitting the earth from the sun

Our shadow traced across America's skin

Tomorrow is her Independence Day

No matter what variable or measure, state lines cannot be determined from those awesome heights

All you witness below is common ground


 We work our way towards the beating hearts of sons of American boys

And the Pacific Ocean

Her cold waters rush and swallow the ankles of fearless children that scream out across those waters to challenge the swelling waves and the surge of time,

"Turn back!

You don’t know us yet, wait your turn,

Until we come upon out time to relent to you.

Turn back!" 


Two days washed away since those moments in the ocean such as the forgotten name of a child you knew long ago

We are older now

I comment about gray in the beards

And erosion

And cracked and tumbling foundations

Brothers and sons

How we came to be, began long before us 

Strongland doesn’t yet understand this


“Dada” Strongland says, his child’s hand draws a line across the horizon of the world he is coming to know

My own hand, sticky with peach jam made from peaches weighing down the crooked branches of an old solitary peach tree tucked against this windswept Oregon mountain, I pull him close like water smoothing the  stones in the trout rivers below

We clear even the height of the sun just breaching the low hills pulled along the distant horizon

The walls of my heart beat harder against his stocky chest of new muscles and strengthening ribs, through our sweat soaked shirts that separate our blood

Even though it is half the same

Strongland’s arms drape loose around my shoulders; he knows I won’t let him go


Broad-beaked ravens cut arcs in the hood of blue above us, calling out to each other

Their serrated knife- winged shadows spiral across the mountain

I mimic them and Strongland laughs and I feel his breath brush my face like the soft shift of lupine and thistle reaching towards heaven from the cattle dotted meadows that surround us


I pull a piece of tall grass from the side of the dirt road and put it between my teeth

And a second one for Strongland

He held on to his only for a moment before with a laugh, he let it go into the wind 

Together we watched it sail away like a twisting feather, and my heart

Over the berm of the road before catching the wind fluttering towards a sinew of pale cinder gray asphalt streaked with logging trucks and grain haulers that appear no more substantial than a toy truck in Strongland’s broad hands 

We lost track of it, like so many things in this world, but I am certain it has settled in the tall grasses waiting until the earth reclaims it


We walked past an old barn; now just organized decay, perched like the peach tree on the mountain, waiting to succumb to the sun and the updrafts and the snow and time’s relentlessness

We stopped and studied the gaps in the exterior walls, exposing the light and shadow patterns laid across bare and lonely floors

I am tempted to disregard the No Trespassing sign nailed onto the dilapidated fence that separated it from the road

And carry Strongland across the threshold

But this was all Nez Perce land and we have gone too far already

Far below us, cast in metal, even Chief Joseph’s shadow resists his nonexistence

I carried Strongland further up the grade higher as my boots ground against the gravel and recalled stories told that morning

Of a gunshot survivor

A mother

A bullet would take the function of an arm but could not damage her grace

She preservers to raise proud children and teach them about how to make their own way downriver and write their own stories

As brittle as clay tile and as strong as Hells Canyon stone

And others who carry their scars on their hearts and survive when their sons have drowned in roaring waters

Through pain and triumph all America’s shadows are created equal


I scan the ridges above us, dense with pine and near-black ochre crevasses

They say the wolves have returned from Yellowstone to the higher mountains as they don’t mind at all the distinction of boundary or ownership of cattle or the lamb

I wear my Save the Wolves t-shirt, a hand painted gift from a child

I was warned not to wear it, to some, the sentiment is not welcome here

What is the difference between a wolf and the farms growing untold acres of feed corn along the Columbia River Gorge, I cannot fathom

Splendid emerald green, mesmerizing but out of place, drenched with an abundance of irrigation waters sprayed out from massive machines as if they will flow forever

Our American shadows ease along in silence as one

Dapple and break across a spring creek

Alongside the juniper and poplar

Above the sloped barn roofs in the valley, as bright as sun-lit mirrors

Our shadows will go with us I tell Strongland

When we are gone, they will be no more

Strongland rested his head on my shoulder

“Mama” he whispered

We turned back for her open, loving arms

As I carry him back down the mountain

Our shadows fall just the same as everyone else

Through unique to themselves all America’s shadows are equal and undivided