Back to Top


Late afternoon light shrining the ocher stalks
of last year’s hillside grasses,
a gentle, easterly breeze—

March in Alaska’s the most pleasant month,
few visitors, no bugs,
snow enough on the mountains
to lend a winter flavor.

It won’t always be like this.
Again the climate’s changing;

Who knows when the swag-bellied bear
will cease its hibernation,
the ptarmigan and weasel
dull to a twelve-month brown?

On the west coast of Cook Inlet
a petrified ginkgo
pillared a limestone bluff.

A tree native to China,
its delicate, fan-shaped leaves
and fleshy, yellowish fruit
preceded alder and white spruce.

Through earthquake and thunderburst
it stood millenniums, unwilling to cede
rock hardwood and grain to urgent weather.

It crumbled finally in a winter storm.

What is acceptance but erosion of resistance:
the mineral wish
to stay the foam and the tireless rush,
the deaf and sickled surf.

…from Violet Transparent (FutureCycle Press, 2010)

Of the North

Brief, the Alaskan summer, but long the light
of early July, when one can sit up late
to sky-watch and wish only that wishes
attain the night’s suspension.
Insects cluster and cruise, then join again,
their bodies a small galaxy
against a backdrop of indeterminate blue.

Whoever is here should be quiet now.
Whoever’s thoughts have drawn up a chart
to the headwaters of the self’s image
should set it down.
Look—what if we’re going nowhere?
What if time is our most famous fabrication?
Up there, somewhere, all our longings

and desire for detachment from desire
spiral into a print that seeks no resolution.
Maybe the final lesson is to learn to spin
while stars, invisible, form the shape
of a great bear, and go on burning and dying
regardless of the season
or when on earth their shining will ever be seen.

…from A Measure’s Hush (Boreal Books, 2011)

Beneath Sleeping Lady

Night rests on this mountain
like a great thigh.
You have said a woman’s breast is a moon
and her mouth a sweet river.
I am, as usual, cold.
My hands seek an accustomed warmth
inside your jacket.
Again we’ve stood our glass up to the stars
and named the constellations.
Sometimes I wonder how we go on
loving the familiar and the magnified.

…from Bone Strings (Scarlet Tanager Books, 2005)

The Many Colors of Gold

Russia’s interest in Alaska was piqued in 1742, after survivors of the tragic Bering expedition returned to Kamchatka with more than tales of hardship and endurance. On their backs and rolled into bundles were pelts of blue fox, fur seal, and sea otter—the latter in particular of immense value, such that it triggered a surge of exploration and exploitation by the fearless promyshlenniki, free-lance exploiters of natural resources. China, with whom Russia had finally reached a trade agreement after years of haggling, set the price. One sea otter skin could earn a Russian clerk an entire year’s income!

Before long, Russia had laid claim to Alaska. With no government, the new colony had free rein, and it wasn’t until the formation of the Russian American Company in 1799 that some conservation measures were put into effect. One goal its founder, Nicolai Rezanov, laid down was to “control all exploitative activity from hunting to mining.” Rezanov made certain this directive was enforced after visiting the Pribilof Islands a few years later, where he witnessed the sickening and wasteful slaughter of fur seals. In 20 years, the herd had been cut down by 90 percent.

The sea otter was also in decline. By the late 1810s pelts were rare, prompting the Russians to send in an expedition to assess the fur and mineral potential of the Interior, including the Lake Clark and Iliamna Lake region. Thanks to another conservation policy implemented by Governor Ferdinand von Wrangell, both fur seals and sea otters showed recovery by 1850.

Alas, with the purchase of Alaska by the United States, Russia’s conservation measures were abandoned. By 1890 in some areas, including Chinitna Bay, once “the richest sea otter hunting ground in the Kadiak district,” according to a U.S. Government report, the 80-pound white-whiskered “Old Man of the Sea” was all but exterminated. No longer commercially viable, the sea otter was given protection under the 1911 Fur Seal Treaty. Although a brief harvest was reinstated in 1967, the sea otter currently enjoys sanctuary from all but Alaska Native hunters under the federal government’s Marine Mammal Protection Act.

…from Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
(Alaska Geographic, 2009)