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voices from the cascadia bioregion

kenai, part I

by lana hechtman ayers

It was almost time for lunch. Pain is human.
—Wallace Stevens

This is the use of memory: For liberation—not less of love but expanding …
—T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding


Late winter here is protracted spring,
nearly eight hours of light and less sodden
a progressive period, subarctic to subtropic.
The short day’s humming bulb is bright halo,
a calciminer sun that freshens snow and roads,
in refracted air that lights the heart’s radiance.
Reflections off the animated river
a tinsel scintillation all afternoon.
And air glitters more than glass or mirror
invigorates the listless mood; milder glacial breeze
in this brightening season. Between freeze and melt
the body’s blood quickens. A trace earthy scent
the scent of life awakening. It remains winter
on the calendar though now the bunchberry
is greened with premature growth
of leaves, a process paternally slow
as summer when it erupts in bloom.
This is not nature’s primal scheme.
Is this global warming, unstoppable
Nuclear Summer?
                         If you came this way
taking a route you would be less likely to take
from a place you would be less likely to come from,
if you came this way winter solstice, you’d find bunchberry
bare and white, with a spare grace.
It would be a different grace if you arrived later.
If you arrived at dawn like a poet philosopher,
if you arrived at dusk knowing what you wanted,
it would be different, when your plane set down
and you left the blue air up where it was with your
faith in thrust. And what you didn’t know you came for
is the translucency, a lust for clarity.
From which the aspiration arises only for breathing
it all in. Whether you had prior ambition
or not,  your passion has moved beyond inspiration,
fulfillment alters desire. There are other places
you could end up, some in sunnier climes,
near Tahoe, or Orlando, or even New York—
but the dearest place in time
is here and now.

                         If you came this way,
taking some alternate route, starting from elsewhere,
at some other time, in any other season,
it would always be different: you would need to open
your senses and mind.  You are here for experience,
to enlighten yourself, feed curiosity,
expand yourself. You are here to feel
where glaciers have been. And glaciers are more
than a core foundation of geography, they are ancestry
of human kind, traversing the earth, remaking the land
as so much life died off, sanctioning new life.
The air must have been glassine then, profound soundlessness
without the breathing and the breath of species gone extinct.
Here, the transversal of epochs and the present
in North America and everywhere. Momentary and eternal.

    statement of place: lana hechtman ayers

    Growing up in New York city, my dreams were filled with mystical vistas—giant volcanoes covered in snow year-round, rolling blue hills made entirely of ice, and the sun setting into the sea. Even as a young girl, I comprehended that the sun rose over the Atlantic, but never set there. In the course of time, I understood that not only the Pacific Ocean, but all those places in my dreams were actual. Something in me pulled me to those sites, a spiritual calling if you will.

    But life being what it is, had other plans. It was not until my fourth decade on this earth that I made my Cascadia dreams a reality. As a master of arts completion present to myself, I traveled to Yachats, Oregon, and drank in the sunset over the Pacific Ocean for the very first time. It was as if I had been an orphan my whole life and finally belonged to a family. I knew I could never call the East Coast home again. Shortly thereafter, I made a permanent move to a rambling house on a bluff that overlooks Puget Sound. From my living room window on clear days, snowy Mount Rainier swirls with ever-changing colors and shadows.

    In 2010, when it became apparent that my only sibling would not survive leukemia, I knew I needed to make contact with the last element of my dreams. I made a pilgrimage to the Kenai peninsula in Alaska to see glaciers—those great blue sloths that had long inhabited my dreams, hundred year old ice, ice with a memory of water, ice older than my brother would ever live to be. Holding a heavy calved chunk of glacier in my hand until the cold burned, the fleeting well-being of mortality profoundly imprinted my consciousness. Cascadia is more than a geographic region for me: It is my soul’s sacred dwelling.