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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Philip Whalen: From Sauk Lookout ("How is it far if you think of it?")


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 Old foundation of fire lookout post, Sauk Mountain, North Cascades, with Mount Baker in distance
: photo by David Silva, 11 August 2012



How is it far if you think of it?

Ezra Pound, from Canto LXXIX

From Sauk Lookout two years before
Some of the view was down the Skagit
To Puget Sound. From above the lower ranges,
Deep in forest -- lighthouses on clear nights --


Philip Whalen, from Sourdough Mountain Lookout, 1965


It is possible -- I found out near the top of Sauk Mountain -- to walk. As you lift one foot the earth turns the mountain under you, your foot comes down in a different place. (This law only applies beyond timberline early summer snow in the North Cascades...)


Philip Whalen: from Walking, 1965





Remains of foundation of fire lookout post, Sauk Mountain, North Cascades, with Sauk Lake in background: photo by David Silva, 11 August 2012



Old guy line that held fire lookout post to Sauk Mountain in high winds, with Mount Baker in distance: photo by DavidSilva, 11 August 2012



View of Mount Baker just as I reach the top of Sauk Mountain: photo by David Silva, 11 August 2012



 Skagit River and valley from from Sauk Mountain, North Cascades: photo by David Silva, 11 August 2012

12 comments:

TC said...

The photographer David Silva has embarked on the noble project of documenting some of the majestic natural settings in which Philip Whalen passed time when not trapped in the city. What a beautiful form of scholarship this is.

David has generously shared his views with us before. The bottom three photos in this recent post give us a glimpse of Phil's surroundings at Tassajara:

Philip Whalen: Discriminations.

The ephemeral and transitory nature of human endeavour could hardly be better illustrated than by top shot, in this present post, showing the rusted stump of rebar protruding from the ruined foundation of this watchtower at the top of the world.

On a 1957 hike in Inyo National Forest, high in the eastern Sierra Nevada of California, PW noted:

"Here, like the summers I worked on the Skagit, I am conscious of little more than the absolute present. I feel free of the past & from myself. There is a continuous roar of water & a slight breeze, & I breathe & digest food noisily but 'I' has temporarily stopped his usual noisy clamor, feelings of irritation, frustration, ambition, remorse, &c. The view of mountains, the immediate trees & water, & at night the stars -- all can be looked at for any length of time & enjoyed as themselves. They require nothing -- & I feel that I require nothing either..."

Ed Baker said...

I like the Pound lead (leap) in ... and all that you follow
with re: these three teaching-masters...

when one gets beyond argument, and comparison and anger and want
that too-busy-mind is
sufficient

TC said...

Ed,

That Pound line, one of the touchstones.

It recurs as a kind of motif in The Cantos. The first use of it comes as EP, in the DTC at Pisa, far from those he loves, gazes at the distant mountain, glowing red in the dawn light, to which he gives the name of the sacred Mount Taishan:

"and Mt Taishan is faint as the wraith of my first friend
who comes talking of ceramics;
mist glaze over mountain

"' How is it far, if you think of it? '"

(Canto LXXVII)

The origin of "How is it far?" can be found in EP's gloss of a poem in the Confucian anthology:

"1. The flower of the prunus japonica deflect and turn, do I not think of you dwelling afar? 2. He said: It is not the thought, how can there be distance in that?"

Ezra Pound, from Confucius

Creeley adapted the line as a title for an essay on John Wieners' poems:

"How is It Far If You Think Of It?"

About distances, and poems improbably wafted across them, what more is there to say?

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

"As you lift one foot the earth turns the mountain under you, your foot comes down in a different place."

Thanks for this, which takes part in beginning of new day.

10.14

light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, sparrow calling from pine branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

wave takes over function of
it, being in relation

also happens, the so-called
forms, limited number

whiteness of sun in clouds above ridge,
cormorant flapping across toward point

TC said...

Thanks Steve, lovely reminder once again that it can't be far if a poem makes you think of/ see/ hear/ feel it:

light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, sparrow calling from pine branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

(Grey whiteness hanging in thick above the hill here, at the moment...)

TC said...

And by the way, Steve, that line of Phil's from "Walking" --

"As you lift one foot the earth turns the mountain under you, your foot comes down in a different place."

-- had long mystified me, before seeing David Silva's pictures.

And after seeing them, now I think maybe I get the drift.

David has written up an interesting account of his trip up that mountain; of which, a few brief bits, offering a useful complement to the photos:

"At the top of the peak, there no longer stands a lookout structure... There are, though, the remnants: a square of concrete from the original foundation, some old guy wires and old rebar, all of which hints at what once was here... What is at once noticeable is how small in area the top of the peak is. It is hard to imagine a lookout sitting up there. And the rocks so pointed and jagged... lookout structures can be as small as 10 by 10 feet. I was struck by how hard it must have been for Philip to get out and stretch his legs, or to get away from an almost certain sense of cabin fever... here there was nowhere to walk... unless one takes a very steep downhill journey..."

-- David Silva: from Visit to Sauk Mountain, 2012

It seems that the unavoidable fact of being alone with oneself was a big part of the lookout experience.

A trial and testing, certainly.

The experience would probably come under the heading of "not for everybody". As we recall, Kerouac, after pining for the solitude of Desolation, once up there, went half-nuts.

Sandra said...

wonderful quotes...love the mountains ! ...thanks!

TC said...

Y gracias a ti, Sandra!

aditya said...

all the 'distance' traveled beginning w Hardy & so many poems sights and sounds ..to have finally reached the mountains

..& beyond

.. a lovely take on EP.


mountain behind mountain behind mountain
petals of a rose

TC said...

Thank you, Aditya, good words from a poet who knows mountains.

Were I to suddenly and miraculously be given the ability to scale a mountain, I'd likely pick one of yours.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Sauk Mountain silk
Skagit skitters
what shape does its language
take? These two
twins of twists
of turns.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The lookout was boring
but I want to be there
be there.