Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jasper - a poet's walk

Paulette Blanchette-Dube doesn't look the way you'd expect a poet to look; 

she's slight, athletic, and brightened by freckles and short, ginger hair. After twelve of us have gathered around her at the Pyramid Bench trailhead behind Jasper's museum, she hands out clipboards of brown paper and pencils.

"Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom," she says, quoting Robert Frost. "When my house was getting built I'd walk these paths every day to relieve some of the stress and gain some wisdom." The forest and mountains spoke to her and her impressions of those "conversations" will soon appear in her book of poems, First Mountain. Motioning to the impromptu clipboards in our hands, she says, "these are in case you want to create your own poems today."

We turn to the path and descend it in a line. I hang back for a couple of reasons: I've just spent two days on a train and need some chatter-free nature time, and I intend to take Paulette's invitation to heart and discover what "her" forest had to say to me.

Paulette points out coyote scat on the path ("you can tell it's not wolf because it's not white with crunched bones"), then the "twisted sister" ~ a couple of tree whose trunks' curves seem to mimic the line of our hiking trail. The hiss of cars recedes as we approach, then join a fire road through a semi-cleared stand of aspen, fir, spruce, pine and poplar.

Occasionally Paulette stops at a particularly pretty or restful place, and reads short pieces from her upcoming book. They describe the forest and mountains as watchers, listeners, speakers. I hear her describe the weight of stones, houses of light, and Texas-blue skies.

She comments on how today's fall light makes "the forest look startled" and how a Douglas fir can survive forest fire because though its bark may be charred with flame, it will survive because "the heart is okay."

I feel poetry rise in me and I scribble a metaphor on how the leaves' sound in the wind reminds me of a turning wheel that picks up speed, then slows, drops, and pauses.

Someone else sketches boughs, and another just stares up at the branches where squirrels hide mushrooms. I hear Paulette observe that "now that I carry less, I see places of prayer more often." I think she's talking about her walks in the woods, but I imagine myself in the city, carrying less and praying more.

Light and lightness lead us back towards the town. I joke with Paulette that when I write a book, it will include traveller's magic. We agree that magic is a good place to start, and as I give Paulette a thank-you hug, I figure a bit of delight and wisdom will have a place in there too.