In endless memory summers of my teenage years,
I am always cutting off the path and hiking uphill
to see what the top of a High Sierra mountain is like.
I grab branch limbs to pull myself on.
When I find the ridgeline, I marvel at how the Earth
goes all this way up to form a kind of platform,
this one place on earth that to me feels right.
I lie down in the 80 degree shade
on a soft duvet of pine needles and nap.
It is forever this way in my mind
even though I probably did that only 3 or 4 times.
In my memory, I close my eyes and think about anarchy,
which is the proper concern of any intelligent 14 year old.
I think about how I am going to make this world right.
I think about how no one understands me, even now.
A long time ago, I was buckled
into the back of my dad’s Oldsmobile
when I glanced in this direction,
more or less where I live now,
and I saw the twenty miles of scrub
leading up to Mt. Baldy
and I realized for the first time
that the desert wasn’t a wasteland,
that there were birds and lizards
and kangaroo mice living dramatic lives
that didn’t include me.
I don’t know why I thought of it
or why I remember it now.
It was both a mundane realization
and the observation of a lifetime.
I was thinking about that today
as I looked out over
the apartment complexes,
warehouses, and big box stores
that have become my neighborhood,
and I suppose it would be easy
to run maudlin here, but there are people
who live full lives of love and betrayal
in these streets that were once desert,
and they have lives that don’t include me
and are perfectly satisfying,
and that’s enough of an observation
to fill this afternoon as I lean
against the railing of my balcony
and track a hawk’s lazy circles.
John Brantingham is the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and his work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has seven books of poetry and fiction including The Green of Sunset from Moon Tide Press, and he teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.