Walking Petersburg Creek, the Tlingit’s Seetkab Heenuk’w,
across the Wrangel Narrows from the mud-flat sloughs of
Mitkof Island, hiking a seldom-used wilderness trail
I pass the last cabin, last sign, last mark on the map
and come upon brown steaming mounds of berry scat,
piles of gutted humpies, half-chewed, fins still twitching.
Through skunk cabbage rank with growth and devil’s club
waiting in ambush, its honed thorns prickly with menace,
I skirt innocent gooseberries, expecting the worst,
prepared around each bend for some dark hulk swatting fish
and the ultimate terror of Ursus arctos horribilis.
Thick groves of old growth soak up light and squeeze out
shapes, the stab of strange limbs, flicker of breeze.
No quick exit out this maze of Sitka Spruce
tangled arctic bog, muskeg carnivorous with quivering
insects caught in the sundew’s last embrace.
A hundred humped shadows leap out at me from the brush,
startled, hungry, rearing up on hind legs, head-high
and higher, murder growling in their fierce gaze.
So near I can smell their panic wild as fish breath.
Lost in this still untamed Alaskan bush where two-leggeds
have no more weight than the meat they carry on their bones,
puffing a tin whistle like a webelo,
clapping hands, singing out of dread not joy,
I keep seeing the hundred hids of Death,
its snout hairy, fangs bristling, about to attack.
Bruin gone berserk and bounding towards me.
Slashed muscle, the snapped arm ripped from its socket.
Claws long as Bowie knives. Eyes like smoking volcanoes.
To run or play dead? Its bulk crushing me into the earth.
Seeing hot flash my whole life engraved on a salmonberry
ground to pulp in the molars of a steel-trap jaw.
I meet no one walking that trail, neither grizzly nor rabbit,
not even a deer munching lichen.
The air is crisp, clouds huddled against nameless peaks.
Perhaps for the first time in my life
I am alone with the dark shape of
Lone Cone Free Poem
May-June 1998 Earth First!