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Sunday, 27 September 2009

For Edward Dorn (II): Wind River Canyon in Snow


File:Wind River Canyon, January 20, 2008.jpg

... In the night the
memoria float up to scatter with old recursive visions the gaps between the words of the posted elegy preceding...

Ed Dorn and I went scouting in a tiny little car in March 1979 (it was just a few weeks short of Ed's fiftieth birthday), investigating "Wyo-booming": the energy boom in Wyoming, where coal, natural gas and uranium reserves were being exploited due to the sudden rise in gasoline prices. We drove all round the state, talking to wildcatters and itinerant riggers and geologists and polyurethane salesmen and tattooed barladies and boomers of every stripe and kind, meanwhile examining some of the strangest, most "unearthly" landscapes this side of the moon: Smithsonian- (as in Robert) scale excavations that put me in mind of the grandeur of the Theban constructions in the Valley of the Nile.

We'd departed Boulder in a false springtime that left us unprepared for the winds and snow we found in Wyoming. The deepening understanding of the meaning of the high plains snow-fence came over us in a rush as the little VW fastback was enveloped in blowing snow. Up in the Wind River Range, not too far from the spot (Titcomb Lakes) pictured in the top photo of the post below, we crossed the Continental Divide in alternating blizzard and blinding sunlight and then again blizzard; the whole scene set into a haze broken with spells of extreme visual acuity; Ed, hunched over the steering wheel like a small-plane pilot over his controls in rough weather, his searching squint into the oncoming flakes contained and keen and penetrant, the white-out a signless opaque cloud gradually enclosing us, wordless, the windows iced, the air frigid, bluish wisps of mushroom smoke drifting like cartoon genies out of Ed's corncob pipe. A wild experience of riding the spine of the Americas at what amounted to an Andean height (well over 10,000 feet, the Wind River Range reaches up near 14,000), well... you had to be there.

The shot up top here, anyway, will give you a bit of an idea of what it looked like then, cresting the continent... in another life.

And then we had some other adventures in somewhat calmer weathers on the way back. That prairie dog I mentioned in the elegy, it stared us right in the eye, in its pop-up prairie dog town, at the base of Devil's Tower...

File:Jeff Fennell - Devils Tower (by).jpg

With not a human soul in sight we made the circuit trail on foot round the base of the Tower, through the pines the vistas westward opened up forever; out there lay for Ed a summoned history, a memory of time and movements of the peoples...


Of course there's more to say about that trip and about the great poet of the American landforms who conducted me on it... but the memoria feel lost tonight...

File:Lost Springs, Wyoming.jpg

Wind River Canyon
: photo by Jonathon Green, 2005

Devil's Tower, Wyoming: photo by Jeff Fennell, 2006
Wyoming landscape as seen from Tower Trail at Devil's Tower National Monument: photo by Xnatedawg, 2008
Lost Springs road sign, state route 20, Wyoming: photo by Idunno00923, 2006


poetowen said...

Have fallen behind on your posts--good to return for this--a reminder to pick up his work again.

Dale said...

Great post, Tom. I remember driving from Pocatello into southwestern Wyoming and feeling as though I'd driven into a film set on Mars, probably written by Philip K. Dick. Only it wasn't a set. Just a dry and dusty contrast of bulldozer and construction in the middle of nowhere. The snow and cold of Idaho seemed only a moment behind me. Wyoming, by contrast, was an eerie place, though I wish I'd made it to Devil's Tower.

Lally said...

Beautiful. Evokes those kind of adventures and those kind of adventure guides so perfectly man. Made, I'm sure, a lot of us wish we'd been there.

Elmo St. Rose said...

seldom is heard a discouraging
but the buffalo were slaughtered
after the whiteman the came/ before game
was in the river valleys not the
mountains and
desolate places/as Dorn pointed out
early, the sky was bigger in Montana/but only when accompanied
by the possibility the West once held.
The mythic West may still be there,
and not just as a construct of the

TC said...

Owen, Dale, Michael, Elmo,

Encouraging to feel the heartbeat of the tribe.

aditya said...

A very heartfelt account Tom.

Sounds like an incredible adventure.

But I know very little of Ed, even Wyoming and Devil's Tower, to write anything.

I feel I can sense what the memoria mean to you.


TC said...


Ed was a great poet and close friend. We both came from Illinois, so that was a sort of bond--though I was a city lad from Chicago, he a country boy from downstate.

He became in his time a great student of the American West, its poet laureate you might say. (We first met, though, in England, of all places.)

I think he would have appreciated your poetry.

Here is one of his early poems, it will perhaps tell you something about him.

In My Youth I Was a Tireless Dancer

But now I pass
graveyards in a car.
The dead lie,
with their feet toward me--
please forgive me for
saying the tombstones would not
fancy their faces turned from the highway.

Oh perish the thought
I was thinking in that moment
Newman Illinois
the Saturday night dance--
what a life? Would I like it again?
No. Once I returned late summer
from California thin from journeying
and the girls were not the same.
You'll say that's natural
they had been dancing all the time.

J said...

Splendid, desolate country, except for the locals. You've never seem 'Merican till you passed through Langer, Wyoming.

Boulder--did you write for Camera, or the CU paper, Mr.Clark? I vaguely recall some of yr writing, nearly as much as I recall a few classes at CU...

don't tell me....Tulagis!

TC said...


Ah, Tulagi's.

We did stop in Langer on that trip. Met various newly-arriving wildcatters all along the way. We were doing a survey of "Wyo-booming": the frantic "Energy Crisis"-induced rush to extract every last ounce and drop of uranium, coal, coal gas, oil, etc. out of that endlessly barren landscape.

That article was done for a short-lived glossy regional mag out of Denver, Rocky Mountain Magazine. I was attempting to piece together a living by freelancing (always a nearly impossible feat). Worked for a while for a Boulder metro mag (Boulder Monthly), also did bits for a Denver paper called Westword. (We lasted but two years before moving on...)

leigh tuplin said...

A real sense of landscape, culture and friendship amongst many other things Tom. A great read aided as always with the visuals.

And on the subject of provenance, I don't see or understand the confusion. But I would like to add on a side note, that whatever the reason you link to your other posts, I really like that you do - I enjoy the dialogue between them.

TC said...

Thanks again Leigh. You know, nobody can count of having readers who care enough to look closely and follow things out. Having even one such reader I would always regard as a great honour. That it should be a reader with your quality of mind almost makes me break out in an attack of gratitude at my rare good fortune.