Reading: On The Mountain by John Haines

John Haines (1924-2011) was a poet laureate of Alaska so imagine snow and huskies and winter cabins. I read a poem about a mountain that is praised for its precision. If you’ve ever walked on a serious mountain, this might remind you:

On the mountain

We climbed out of timber,
bending on the steep meadow
to look for berries,
then still in the reddening sunlight
went on up the windy shoulder.

A shadow followed us up the mountain
like a black moon rising.
Minute by minute the autumn lamps
on the slope burned out.

Around us the air and the rocks
whispered of night . . .

A great cloud blew from the north,
and the mountain vanished
in the rain and stormlit darkness.

I just read a beautiful description of a mountain trek I did once in Argentina or Europe. I haven’t hiked in the far north but I have been in snowy mountain forests on the German-Austrian border. The first stanza sets the stage perfectly: berry gathering at nightfall.

The shadow following the couple (I assume there are two people, where could that assumption come from?) should not be interpreted religiously, like, there is a black moon and the darkness of heart follows us when we look for the forbidden fruit. Forget it. You’re out. That is not what Haines meant.

Speaking of religion, he shows a vitalist world view in which air and rocks can whisper.

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