Craig Wisner

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Staying Close.

There is something to be said for staying close, for loving the trees and canyons that are most available.  Some seek only high peaks and broad views, but when I have the urge to be alone, to listen to birds until the sun sets and stare into a fire long past dark, it’s all the same.  The sound of the creek is the sound of all creeks, the noise of rain in the canopy, dripping, drumming on my tent fly is no different than anywhere else.  Often what we’re looking for is right beneath us- don’t be fooled into thinking you have to travel far and wide to find it; that’s the advertisers and adventure magazines talking.

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It seems to be a matter of macro vs. micro.  I can stare off at the land from a peak high in the Sierra and be awed and overwhelmed by the sight, a big picture revealed before me. But then there are the small places, places close to home, the nooks and bends amongst fern and oak, tiny streams harboring tiny animals and tiny views.  I can assure you; the silence at night is the same.

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Stale bread and miso soup.  I’m becoming a pro at zero cost outings, raiding the cupboards for whatever I have.  It doesn’t take much.  Why shouldn’t a bag of rice and some tea be enough?

I keep returning to my favorite spot, my refuge for poetry and nights of reflection.  Alone seems best these days.  I’m getting to know it, now anxious to feel the rhythms of all the seasons and years unfolding.  I heard a new bird on this trip, yet to be identified, calling out in the night between breaks in the rain.  Owing to the “terrible” weather, I didn’t see another person.  Perfection.

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And the rain!  We get so little of it here, it’s become an imperative that I get into it whenever I can.  I sat by the fire with a poncho draped over myself and my chair, umbrella overhead, hours sitting like this, managing to simultaneously enjoy both the water and the flames.  The beauty of the wood stove; the rain couldn’t stop the sheltered fire.  The beauty of my new chair; keeping my butt out of the mud.  I can’t help but feel I’ve increasingly got it figured out, at least how to find a little piece of what I’m looking for.

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Pages upon pages…I managed to coax out one poem that might be worth sharing:

 

The bones of a mule deer 

decay beside a fallen oak

as our ancestors

are turned to ash.

Felling grandmothers,

trees, and giants

Death strolls indifferently

through this world.

A Question of Style.

After many years away, I’m rediscovering the desire to climb again.  It’s been so long, and it seems my break has brought about a fresh start, both mentally and physically.  While it’s frustrating to have to work up to doing climbs that were once routine, I’m in such a different mental space, it all feels very new and fun again.  It fits my pattern of weaving in and out of activities or finding new life in old things.  I think Yvon Chounard summed it up well in calling himself an “Eighty Percenter”.

“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different…” -from Let My People Go Surfing

I can identify strongly.  I’ve dabbled in most aspects of the sport, roamed the rocks with packs of people and pads and ropes, but looking back, my most memorable days on rock seem to be the ones spent alone.  Naturally, this is what drew me away from sport and trad and into bouldering.  The ritual was quite simple; wake up before sunrise, drive through the mountains, hike the approach as the sky was turning, and ideally find myself sitting atop a boulder to watch the sunrise.  It was a physical meditation.  I did this for many years, especially seeking out obscure and unclimbed routes in the periphery of developed areas.  I’m feeling the siren song again and find myself stashing climbing shoes in my pack before trail runs, scouring my local hills for new things.

Six months ago I joined up at my old climbing gym, hoping to get back into the habit and develop some regular climbing fitness.  It was a slap in the face and had the exact opposite effect.  I walk in on a Thursday evening to music blaring, people everywhere…

I climbed there twice, paid up the rest of my contract, and walked away.

I’m no doubt a different person than I was in my earlier gym days. This is not a judgement on the people or the gym, it was simply immediately apparent it wasn’t what I was looking for.

Fortunately I just found a better “gym”, a spot where I can train the way I please.  It’s outside, very close to home, completely secluded, with only birdsong in the air.  At 10 to 15 feet tall and over 100 feet long, this retaining wall has countless difficulty levels and is big enough for my main goal of endurance work.  That this man-made wall has been sitting right under my nose for years and I only just discovered it motivates me to find what else is hidden right within my stomping grounds.

traverse

 

Sometimes little discoveries like this are a wake-up call, a sign that I was looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place, that I have grown and my preferences have changed.  It’s a reminder that I have to be true to myself, that I have to surf my own waves and climb my own rocks.  Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that after all these years, I’ve unconsciously developed my own style and I’m feeling its gravity.

The Path to No-Name Hermitage.

(Written in the style of my masters)

The path to No-Name Hermitage is steep

and winding

but is easy enough to find

Just follow the deer tracks

bear scat

and chattering mountain squirrels

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Follow them up and away

far from city lights-

weaving through pine and manzanita

beneath the eyes of crows

and beside moss-covered rocks

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Clouds hang on the peaks above

golden light spreading

on the heads of oaks

in the valleys below

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Find No-Name Hermitage

and you’ll want to stay, too

If while descending the canyon

the melodies of an untuned flute

and the smell of woodsmoke

are in the air

you’ll know an old poet

is home

at his woodstove

above the stream

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He may eat your food*

if you’re not careful

and his little dog is mean

but he’s quiet

and harmless

and would be happy

to share his wine

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He talks to ghosts

beside the fire

mumbles to ancestors

and animals

writes a line or two

in his book-

Always trying to remember

what he’s forgotten

trying to unlearn

what he already knows

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If you see his wife and children

in the market or shops below

tell them he loves them

he’ll be home soon-

he just has to sit a little longer

has to make sure

that the stream is still flowing

that the mists still gather

and drip from the trees

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*Upon arriving in camp, I find a cache of food inside the woodstove.  A half-opened can of refried beans, a bag of small potatoes, a can of some sort of carrot soup, and a roll of aluminum foil.  As is so common in these parts, I assumed the food was left as trash from the night before.  Come evening I cracked the can of carrots and started roasting potatoes…

About an hour after dark I hear voices, see headlamps descending into the canyon.  I’m soon blinded as they discover me at camp.  They’re shocked they’re not alone.  In a sheepish voice, one says:

“Uh…did you see some food left here?”

My response from the darkness, as I’m holding back my snarling dog:

“I ate it.”

They look intimidated.

Disappointed whispers from the one in back:

“Dude, that was all our food…”

“Oh, I didn’t eat it all.  Just two potatoes and half the can of the carrot stuff.  I checked the beans but they didn’t look good.”

Silence.

“The rest of the food is there, take it.  Sorry, but I had no way of knowing you were coming back.  A lot of people leave trash like this.”

“Fair enough.” one says in defeat.

They gather what’s left of their food and walk off with their tails between their legs.  I gave them a package of ramen and miso.

I laughed about this all night.  Poor kids.

 

 

 

The Morning Fire

She makes the coffee

stirring it in the press

with a chopstick

or a favorite bamboo handled spoon

reserved just for this.

I go out back

split some wood

get the fire going

and pull up a pair of chairs.

The children are still asleep

and will be for a few more hours

so we meet

and sit outside.

The cats follow us out

we warm our feet

beginning our weekend

beneath the branches

of the oak in the corner.

I hope this is the way the kids remember us-

sitting by the fire

talking

after all these years.

 

 

What can I say about this man?

Sometimes someone just writes it exactly the way you wish you could.

The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean
by Robinson Jeffers

Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

The old monster snuffled, “Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,”
The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

“The world’s in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,”
Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

“Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,”
Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.

Black Friday on the PCT. (11/27-11/28 2015).

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A drive into the high country, watching clouds brewing over Mt. San Antonio in the distance, a considerable amount of fresh snow left behind.

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Five miles of northbound hiking on the PCT, the air feeling especially brisk this weekend.  He’s as fast as me now, doesn’t complain about his pack or shoes anymore.  We can get places.

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I wasn’t quite prepared for temperatures below 20 degrees.  It was one of those nights when the cold hurt, when you need the fire and fear having to step away from it.  He had my 5 degree bag; his heavy, slow breathing and stillness were all the reassurance I needed that he was warm.  I shivered in my bag with all my clothing on, counted the hours, watched the moon arc over our tent.  The type of night that brings renewed appreciation for every comfort of my house.

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By 4:30AM I couldn’t take it anymore, crawled out into the painful dark and prayed for a quick starting fire.  Ice crystals glittered on everything in the headlamp light.  I roused him long enough to get the unfrozen water and fuel out of the foot of his sleeping bag, got the pot boiling and stoked the fire in a cold panic, making quick work of my first two cups of coffee.  Something resembling warmth finally came, with it silence, a few hours to myself under the pre-dawn sky.  At first light he joined me for tea; talk of life and friends, ideas and happenings.  His world increasingly revolves around people and places I do not know.  Here, we can get back together.

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There are mornings when it seems the sun will never come and when it finally does you open yourself to it wholly, absorb it as deeply as you can.  So often I run from it; this morning I couldn’t meet it fast enough.

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He set a surprisingly fast pace getting out, hearts pumping, air stinging our throats, stopping only to touch the moss and lichen he is so fond of.

Sipping tea and looking over the trip’s pictures, feet finally thawed after a hot shower.  Nothing else to do.

 

 

 

An Old Friend This Morning.

riding broken streets to work
-ahead, rounding a corner
I catch the eye of another cyclist
and there is sudden recognition
and we stop
and there’s a bewildered smile
and an old friend standing there,
an old friend from the lean old days
of art school, cheap malt liquor,
and not thinking much
beyond tomorrow.
20 years ago.
How the fuck
could it be 20 years.
We pull into a driveway out of traffic
hug, trade laughs
and disbelief
that we found each other
just after sunrise
rolling along in the gutter
off Venice and Crenshaw.
He looked old
and tired
and I know if I saw the same man
when I was younger,
I would have thought
he was just another old man
on a beat-up bike
going to a beat-up job
with bloodshot eyes
and dirty pants.
But after promising to meet
for memories and a beer
I pedal away, wondering
and I look down
and I notice my dirty pants
and I can feel my tired eyes
and I can trace the lines in my face
and I realize that I’ve completely forgotten
about what I, too
have become.

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