Editor’s note: Author/poet/recently retired teacher-writing instructor David Feela is a regular contributor to Telluride Inside… and Out. His latest book, “How Delicate These Arches: Footnotes from the Four Corners,” a collection of essays, is available at Between the Covers Bookstore and is up for a Colorado Book Award. This week David is featured at an upcoming event at the five-star Wilkinson Public Library.
Talking Gourds is a free open-mic and poetry performance that occurs on the first Tuesday of every month at the library. At 6:00 p.m., hosts Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and Art Goodtimes sit down with David for an interview that explores his background, his poetry and his essays. Then at 6:30 p.m., David reads before a captivated audience. After the performance, Art leads the group in a “gourd” circle where patrons can reflect on David’s work or share a poem of their own.
“The gourd circle is a process for sparking the creative minds of everyone in the room,” explains Goodtimes.
For more information on this program, visit www.wplevents.org
John Muir, go home
Any experienced summer traveler might have pointed to my wife and me as classic examples of clueless tourism: See what you get when you travel without an itinerary? When you think camping has something to do with owning a tent? I can hear them stifling their snickers, trying to sound sympathetic but finding no compassion.
We’d pulled into three campgrounds run by the U.S. Forest Service and found no place to stay for the night. Although many sites were still unoccupied, each had a white sticker clipped to its driveway post declaring that plans had officially been made. It was our own fault: we’d left home at the ridiculously late hour of 8 a.m., driven for eight hours through an inspirational landscape where we’d succumbed to the temptation of stopping to look at the scenery. Worst of all, we’d neglected to call ahead with a valid credit card in order to guarantee a camping reservation.
We deserved what we didn’t get.
Then we just got lucky. One loop of the Redstone Campground in Colorado’s White River National Forest had witnessed a modern day miracle: Rangers received a cancellation — something that hadn’t happened in the last six months, according to our campground host. Site number 11 ended up being the one tucked a little too near the privy, but we took it, paid $18 for one night, and joked that a 15′ X 15′ gravel pad might have what it takes to rock us to sleep.
With my lamp strapped to my head, I read a little from John Muir’s diaries while someone’s gasoline generator rattled the aspen leaves for nearly an hour. Then I closed my book and listened to the evening serenade of another camper’s boombox featuring a country singer whose heartache should have stayed back on the ranch. The burnt umber sunset had long ago vanished behind the horizon, but when the security lights for the toilet came on, I answered the call and did what nature required of me.
I thought about John Muir, who wrote in 1895: “You know that I have not lagged behind in the work of exploring our grand wildernesses, and in calling everybody to come and enjoy the thousand blessings they have to offer.” Well, John, they’re all here, every one of them from what I can tell, and I think it’s about time somebody withdrew your invitation. I guess camping will never again be what it was in your day: a primitive excursion away from the security and sameness of our homes and into the unpredictable unknown.
At the beginning of the 20th century Muir perceived our public lands as places of “spiritual power” where the soul could be recharged by the earth’s “divine beauty.” Clearly a romantic, John Muir would be discouraged to see how tourism has been exploited for profit by the very agencies charged with protecting it at the beginning of the 21st century.
Of course, times change. Muir’s idea that by seeking wilderness people could purge themselves of the “sediments of society” has really lost its appeal. More and more, it seems, campers flock to our national forests carting the trappings of our society with them. Out of 40 reserved sites along the Crystal River, I counted only five that contained tents. The rest were what I call “wireless homes.” They function just like the places left behind, but from a more remote location.
The big rigs sometimes haul cars and pull in with ovens, refrigerators, satellite TVs, stereos, showers, hot water heaters, air conditioners, and furnaces.
Though the human spirit will always seek some connection to the natural world, I think the human brain has trouble getting past its busy signal. Muir believed that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.” Thanks to our federal agencies that manage the outdoors for us, we have built way stations in the woods that translate Muir’s belief just a little too literally.
Eventually, the posted rules for our campground’s curfew took effect and things quieted down. I got up to stroll around our loop and saw more than a dozen fire rings kindled on this warm summer night. At first, I was struck by the absurdity of the scene, because the last thing anyone needed was a crackling fire. But when I wandered even farther away from the society of campers, out of the loop and along a path through the moonlit trees, I glanced up at the sky and noticed there, too, all those stars, still burning.
Speaking of Home
A round nest
beneath the Russian olive,
of a thousand threads,
bits of fluff
spinning like the center
of a universe.
Stooping to touch it,
I thought to
pick it up, when a shadow
tussled the air,
so I left it,
knowing last night’s wind
had put it there,
but even so, I couldn’t help
to ask forgiveness.