Gardener at Heart - Book One

True Stories About The Hills


Oh, the bare fat hills

And the bony rocks!


Not far from here’s a place a hermit lived,

Way up a hill among the towering rocks.

One morning he hiked up, and there he stayed,

And rested in the shadow of the cliff,

And wandered through the ripened spikes of grass,

The rusty seed heads and the dusty stones,

The glowing sunflowers and the pungent weeds,

And looked for buckwheat blooming softly pink.

He watched the sunset slowly stain the sky,

And made his mind up, as he watched it fade,

To sleep there, where he felt so much at ease.

(I bet he brought some water and a lunch,

And was no stranger to the earth’s hard breast.)

When morning came he knew that he would stay.

He made a cave into a little house,

And for a garden, he let nature choose.

(He must have bought his food down in the town

And packed his fuel and water up the hill,

And what about an outhouse? Where was that?)

He told his visitors he liked the peace

And liked to watch the bustle down below.

The folks were close enough, but not too close.

We love the tall thin rock that marks the spot.

(Two stovepipes kept it company back then.)

We crane our necks whenever we drive by

To look up at that rock and think of him.

I’m glad the spot he chose was really steep,

Or else it might have been developed now 

Like so much of the land around has been.

And that old graveyard spread out down below

Is much more overcrowded now as well.


Oh, the corrugated cliffs

And the sunny flowers with claws like hawks!


This place, unchanged for many years, still marred

By holes awash with pale collapsing space,

And overlooked by surly poison oak,

Is where pot-hunters came to spend their sweat.

Oh, Shakespeare is aghast to see them dig.

Not that again! You know, these holes are deep.

So now I know how holes in roads were named.

Now native plants have come to grow and bloom

Down all the sides and bottoms of the holes.

These flowers are the heroes of the scene.

These little bitty plants have great big hearts.

Somehow they have forgiven all those ones

Who dug where no one ever should have dug.

And yet, despite the kindness of the plants,

I have a funny feeling about these holes.


Look, the tiny outline of a deer

Beneath that sky-drawn tree.


Back then the hills were crowded full of sheep,

Those loud-mouthed busy nibblers with big hair.

They wrote their stories in cuneiform

Across the steepest faces of the hills.

They stamped their stylus hooves in stony dirt,

The very ground their tablets, time their now,

Inscribing lines and lines of hieroglyphs

About the urgent search for further grass.

It almost seems the shepherds left no mark,

But some of their great-grandkids live nearby,

Now busy making stories of their own.


Look, there’s the curve of a shoulder,

And trees for a mane.


They found a hidden place above the creek

Within the shelter of a horseback hill,

Protected from the wind and far from crowds,

Where hills at dawn and sunset, left and right,

Held colors that could make a painter cry.

They built a house here on this little knoll,

Perhaps it was a hundred years ago.

These fitted rocks remain, still neatly squared

To level up the ground beneath the walls.

What else? Some pieces of a broken crock,

Part of a stove, a handful of square nails,

A rusted dipper, bits of melted glass,

Is almost all the wildfires could well spare.

A harness buckle, rusted shut, once rode

A horse’s back on day-long trips to town.

(And now it’s just some minutes in a car.)

And here, an old forge tool, been lost for years,

With which he rang his anvil, backwoods bell;

Up at the house she heard him at his work,

And knew that all was well, and kept the beat

With feet strong on the treadle while she sewed.

The wheel that joined the treadle to the belt

Was foundered in the dirt, like his forge tool,

Unseen beneath the ground until this now.

As for the rest, did they cut trees, clear fields,

And plant a garden in this stony clay?

And maybe kept some chickens, milked a cow?

The pines here now are young enough to be

What sprouted when that him and her were gone.

Well, some things can be known, the rest is guess.

They say there was a settler’s grave nearby.

I wish I knew just where to lay these flowers.


Mt. Hood stands on tiptoe to peer over the hills,

Sharp as flaked obsidian.


Two boys were hiking up a flat-topped hill

With lunches in their packs and happy mouths,

And as they wandered on the highest slopes,

They came across a silent hoop of rocks

The size of little pillows, more or less,

Still in the circle left when long ago

Some people pulled a tipi cover out

From under them, and packed, and went away.

The boys stood in the middle of the ring

And looked down at where once the others slept,

Then looked out at the view the others saw,

And wondered why they chose this very spot,

Not knowing it was once less desolate.

“Oh, hey, I bet we’ll find an arrowhead!”

They searched, but no, not even a scorched rock,

No sign of why the others made their camp

On such a barren place up near the sky,

And they were gone too far away to ask.

So that was all the boys could tell their folks,

And late that night they lay in bed and thought:

So many stories lost out in the hills.


Oh, the bare fat hills

And the bony rocks!

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