Issue Number 3, April/May 2009


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Early Days of the 21st Century

by Grace Marie Grafton

Grace lives in the wooded hills of Oakland, California, in the Sausal Creek watershed. Outside her kitchen door is a second growth redwood tree, part of a landscape that was blanketed with old-growth redwoods at the time of the California gold rush, and a short walk east from her house is the wilderness area of Redwood Regional Park, where she loves to hike.

Hail a percussive rattle on window
panes wakes dreamers
who skip sideways into
forlorn.  Numb, neighborly,
gold and the heap of trash
strewn along highway and
blown into the backyard. 

Many animals crawl
to freedom, four wheel
drive across desert,
forgive the greedy bastards
who inherit.

No American escapes.

Supper on the table,
the one who put it there
bikini surfers take for granted,
how many sharks in the water
under piers, never wait ‘til
they’re always moving.

Fern Ridge

by Sharon A. Murphy

Several years before I was born, my father bought five acres of land. The land is twelve miles west of Eugene and less than a half mile east of Fern Ridge Reservoir. The name Fern Ridge immediately evokes images of the gentle rolling hills, tall grasses, horses in pastures and a reservoir full of precious water kept in reserve for use throughout the year. From the property the lake is just a short hike across open fields and an old hazelnut orchard that sits kitty-corner from the neighbor’s fence.

In 1960 the land was cheap; the five acres cost only $4,000, a bargain. At the time the land was impossible to get to by car, with no road, paved or unpaved. Even on foot we had to cross some 35 acres to get to it from Fir Butte Road. Back then, no houses were built in the area yet, but some lands were marked with ‘No Trespassing’ or ‘No Hunting’ signs, others barbed wire. Even as a little girl of three or four, I remember my father and two older brothers lifting the posts so I could crawl under to get to “the pond.”

Constructed in the early 1940s, the dam at the confluence of the Long Tom River and Coyote Creek created the Fern Ridge Reservoir. The Fern Ridge area was settled along the Applegate Trail that skirts the western edge of the Willamette River Valley.

Dad told me about the first settlers in the ridgeline area who came to Oregon via the Applegate trails starting in 1843. The ridges were used as landmarks to help guide the early settlers when they reached the southern Willamette valley. Early settlers secured their plots and worked quickly to establish farms. The open land of the ridgeline area lent itself well to farming and ranching, plentiful with birds and animals to hunt.

Historic aerial photos from 1936 and surveys from the 1850s and 1940s show a meandering network of channels in this area surrounded by oak and ash bottomland forest. The headwaters of various creeks, the Willow, Amazon, Russell, and Spencer Creek, all originate in the ridgeline area. Smaller drainages such as Inman Creek and the West Fork and Middle Fork of Coyote Creek also feed into the reservoir. Clearings of oak savanna and wet prairie were scattered throughout the area as well. Species that likely thrived here include Western pond turtle, red-legged frog, Oregon chub (fish), Western meadowlark and the acorn woodpecker, all now endangered in the area.

While the reservoir is about 9,000 acres, the Army Corps of Engineers administers a total of 12,700 acres within the Fern Ridge area. The lake is drained in winter to “low pool” to allow for flood control, the southeast shore designated a wildlife refuge in 1979. Visible structures here include standing timber, reeds and grass, rocks from the dam, and a few stumps. The key here is to find what you can't see. You can walk for miles in areas that are underwater in the spring and summer months. An old roadbed, ditches, and many more stumps than you think give the birds and animals perches and hiding places.

The resulting marsh and wildlife refuge hosts tree frogs, newts, osprey, rare purple martins (in spring), black-tailed deer, red foxes, beaver, muskrats, minks, pond turtles, and great blue herons. Extensive wetlands provide unique habitats for a variety of wildlife. Cereal grains and forage crops are planted on lands surrounding the lake to provide for wintering waterfowl populations.

The wildlife area is closed to the public January–March 15 for the protection of wintering birds. There are some 250 species found here, including tundra swans, northern harriers, Canada geese, mergansers, and peregrine falcons. Perhaps the most eye-catching are the egrets because of their white plumage and large size.

Every season Dad would take us out there to look for birds, hike and explore. In spring we could walk from our property to northern sections of the park where woodland trails gave access to the reservoir shore where many birds feed in the beach grass. One of my earliest memories is of walking through fields to the edge of the lake with my father. Together we identified every tree and flower and named and admired every bird that sang. As I grew older we made a game out of our discoveries: two points for each different bird, five for each different animal, and ten if it was one neither of us had seen before. My interest grew into a passion for bird watching. Dad and I continued to exchange notes and accumulate points over the years, until he passed away when I was 17. I still keep a little bird on my nightstand that reminds me of those times. And one of the last notes from my brother Michael before he died in 1991 was a note about the Canadian geese. 

Once I had dreams of developing the land and building a house on it, but now I have dreams of restoring the old field on the property to native prairie. The neighbor’s land will be restored to a mixture of bottomland hardwood forest along the creek and oak savanna and wet prairie in the areas between the creeks. Some have plans to reconnect historic Coyote Creek to its original confluence with the Long Tom River. This will allow cutthroat trout and other native fish to access the historic channel from the river, a move these fish must make when either stream flows or water temperature become too high in the lower Long Tom River. 

By early April the reservoir is filled to “full pool,” and during the summer months the reservoir is maintained with a surface area approximately five miles wide and five and a half miles long with a shoreline length of 32 miles.  Beginning in early October the water level slowly recedes to expose a wide mud flat around the perimeter of the reservoir.  Water levels fluctuate considerably during the winter months based upon the intensity and duration of the winter rains. 

Waterfowl counts have been conducted regularly at Fern Ridge during the winter since 1989. Years after they’re both gone, my father and brother would be pleased to know the birds are finally being counted. Peak counts each winter fluctuate between 15,000 and 27,000 birds. This number excludes 18,000 to 20,000 Canada geese and 1,200 to 1,500 tundra swans that roost on the lake during the night and fly out to the surrounding fields at daybreak. Though Fern Ridge is not on the ocean, it supports a breeding colony of 20-30 pairs of black terns. And it’s a significant stopping place for some shorebirds, especially in the fall, and regularly (during migration) holds more than 100 individual shorebirds at one time.

The cool rains of October signal the season for native species; it’s the month for swarms of migrants passing through and wintering birds arriving. There were many reports of nighttime flights of Swainson’s thrushes, calling out to each other as they passed overhead and loud enough to wake the human residents below. Occasionally other twitters and chirps were heard, indicating other species with them.

A short walk from the property near Fern Ridge Lake is a pioneer cemetery aptly named ‘Oakhill’ covering two sides of a small knoll within sight of the Fern Ridge Reservoir. It has become a resting place for many of the early pioneers who came out West via the Oregon Trail. Both my father and brother are now buried there. At the crest of the hill bordering the gravel drive and under a huge Pacific madrone tree sit the two markers for part of my family. After 150 years, signs of age and erosion are particularly evident on the north-facing grave markers. One day in rain and windy weather I found a marker with a tender, still decipherable, inscription:

When musing sorrow weeps the past
And mourns the present pain
How sweet to think of peace at last
And think of death as gain.

After a quiet walk through the cemetery rows, I leave another piece of paper under a rock between my family graves that simply says, “42 points: white pelicans today.”

Bird Source:  Audubon Society of Lane County

Guadalupe Caracara

by Francis Raven

Without a museum you will never know if it’s the last.  The ritual equated wing with weapon (falling).  Unless you can survey everything you will never know the end.  A bird is not a triangle, closed.  A rare species always attracts a man against all odds, in waders, with, of course, a camera.  A black swan is always a metaphor, no more powerful than a white crow, except for the facts, how the world turns out.  A villager is reported as saying, “At least somebody still believes that.  I’ve heard other, simpler, people do.”  Herding is letting something grow back.  You can represent it systematically.  You can hang each feathered thing on a tree.  They have eaten the kids, goats, that is.  Didn’t mean to scare you.  You are not in danger; the bird was endangered before they were all killed.  That damned thing uprooted the ancestry of movement on this island.  No, the circle is not his egg.  He was the imbalance, not us.  We poisoned his wells.  “Only 19 specimens of this distinct form have been preserved.  There are three in this museum.”


by Grace Cavalieri

Grace lives and writes in Annapolis, Maryland, by the beautiful Chesapeake Bay, which is coming back to life with new fish, new hope, new streams.

If you ask what brings us here,
staring out of our lives

like animals in high grass,
I’d say it was what we had in common

with each other – the hum of a song we
believe in which can’t be heard,

the sound of our own
luminous bodies rising just behind that hill,

the dream of a light which won’t go out,
and a story we’re never finished with.

We talk of things we never comprehend
so that you’ll know about

the inner and the outer world which are the same.
Someone has to be with us in this,

and if you are, then,
you know us best. And I mean all of us,

the deer who leaves his marks behind him
in the leaves,  the red fox moving through the woods.

The same stream in them is in us too
although we are the chosen ones who speak.

Please tell me what you think cannot be sold
and I will say that’s all there is:

the pain in our lives.
… the love we have …

we bring you these small seeds.
Do what you can with them.

What is found in this beleaguered
and beautiful land is what we write.

from Poems New & Selected (Vision Library)

Painting Oceanside

by Jennifer Chapis

Sunlight rocks a fallen paper cup.

Sunlight drenches the sea.

I can hardly believe
the other world in me tugging like certainty.

Someone nearby undresses
facing the ocean’s unconscious exhale—

Blind cloud of gulls.  Whisper at the elbow of the undertow
folding into itself. 

Perhaps one day a boat
free from its mooring

will carry the storm’s core home—
how questions make more sense

after breaking. 
I will paint all the breezes

to believe the world.
Gut swears to

every last bone in the song

Strip Mine

by Becky Faust

A terrible, lunar beauty,
pale and sere
like leaves past withering
when we run along the edges,
slag bits broke loose and
rolled down the wash
to the bottom,
pebbles round
as dark marbles,
two halves of ancient bivalve clam
facing each other
in frozen contemplation,
the animating spark
between them
buried in sediment eons ago.

At the edge
wild chicory contributes its blue
to the green and white tangle
of Bindweed and Queen Anne’s Lace,
then, the shallow mine pit,
wide, rusty gash,
obscene nakedness
of rock scoured of soil by the rains
since the miners packed up their rig
and left.

Ledges with crumbling faces
of limestone, gneiss, and shale,
whole trays of layers which separate
to reveal the mystery
of delicate calligraphy on slate,
ancient fern or fish,
or link to man.

first published in the North American Review, Spring 2007; finalist for 2006 James Hearst Poetry Prize.

The Disappearance of the Polar Bears

by Jeanne Wagner

Jeanne lives on the east side of San Francisco Bay with Cerrito Creek, and the canyon it forms, in her "backyard," where black-tailed deer, turkey vultures and a dwindling population of raccoon and possum still roam.

They were our saints and our hermits,                       
our ursine angels.                                                    
In exile they found a promised land
where cold

condensed under their feet and they
walked on it,

where they moved soundlessly as ghosts,

even under ice, the strenuous beating
heart of seals.

Some journeyed as far north as the Pole,
that skull-cap of ice,

its whiteness the imagined afterlife of
ordinary bears.

Their bodies grown solid as icons: the
squared-off limbs,

shoulders that tapered to a muzzled head,
dog-small and low slung.

Yet who could fail to love their
black-eyed cubs,

born with the furred innocence
of harp seals;

or the way they swam, legs paddling
in circles,

tractionless as the running in
our dreams. 

I’ve read that the silence of arctic ice
lasts through innumerable nights

That’s why I keep this image of              
a single bear

standing on the pole, his white body
on the whiter ice,

like the pulse of something warm
inside the cold.

Could the problem be the airplanes,
when they scattered

the last angels from their wisps of
cirrus cloud, while below,

on cruise ship tables, ice sculptures
slowly began to melt away?

*from “Seventh” by Anna Akhmatova

“Disappearance of the Polar Bears” first appeared in Medusa in Therapy, Poets Corner Press 2008

The Twilight Collections Agency

by Rick Lord

(He twice

long sleek
tight black
what look like

as if

Mink? Weasel?
Do we even know
Ah, yes:
North Woods

Next evening,
come looking
now seriously

her size)

brown coats,
from here
expensive shoes,

across the road
against the lights,
beneath ferns
our creek.

these people?
the Fisher-Cats,

the neighbors
for their precious
"money cat,"

Trees Full of Light

by Barbara Daniels

Barbara Daniels lives in the Big Timber Creek watershed, which drains into the Delaware River.

At the lip of woods,
trees express delight,
every word a long
vowel. A tree’s
desires are met in air:

sunshine and sameness,
the great continuities. 
Untroubled trees
turn their leaves
in the light, each

to the sun, each
with easy work to do. 
They approve
my affection,
my long meanders

and frivolous hat. 
Why not be sisters
while day remains? 
When wind dips
branches and gently

lifts them, trees
let slip what they
don’t need, sift
needles and seed pods

into the shade.

What the Elephant Sings

by Lois Marie Harrod

Lois lives in the Stony Brook watershed in Hopewell, New Jersey, a sweet little town that has been here since the l8th century. Though close geographically, it seems far from the turnpike-oil-refinery New Jersey.

I destroy
what sustains–
the grass, the trees–

as you have
taught me,
little man with a mouth.

I have learned
the thirty words
that enslave.

I spread the world
over my body–
the mud, the sea–

my brother lost his trunk.
He kneels to eat,
and soon he starves.

It has been years
since dressed in blue stones

I carried the queen.

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