Christianne Balk

John Muir in the Sequoias
August, 1870


Enough of the winds tearing through Merced
Canyon’s boulder-choked gorge, enough
of the stampedes muddying Moss Creek.
Enough hoofed catastrophes. I’ll ride them

all out in these root-caves, framed
with the purple-tinged bark of buttressed
trunks in an unnamed grove. Too tired
of tales of the ground’s cataclysmic quakes –

valleys bottomed out, pine trees tossed,
cedar, oak, gusts snapping massive limbs,
and the sudden rush of flame –
to even imagine fire grazing these old,

close-packed leaves. Spinning, zigzagging,
burning back, surging, scorching every living
thing. Roaring updrafts filling branches filled
with cones. Ashes settling, smoking litter cooling

slowly. The air dark with incense, charred
stumps. Blackened hollows like the one I sit in.
From this loud storm drifts
chestnut snow, down from the quiet

canopy, each fleck smaller than a grain
of flax, a cloud of hope released from tight
cone scales opened by the heat,
flurries of small, flat-winged seeds.


“John Muir in the Sequoias” first appeared in Words and Pictures Magazine.
Christianne Balk’s books include Bindweed and Desiring Flight. After majoring in biology at Grinnell College, she studied English at The University of Iowa. Her poems have appeared in The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Alhambra Poetry Calendar, The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and other anthologies and journals. She lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter.

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