Poets of the Okanogan

“I’m not rooted to this place.”

It’s the first line of a poem I wrote a while back. I rarely face up to the challenge of writing poetry, but every year the Okanogan Land Trust nudges me to give it a try. The Trust, through the efforts of Walter Henze and Grant Jones, invites residents to share poetry and songs about the Okanogan at an annual potluck.

In a kind of mission statement, the men explain: the poems “celebrate the

nature of the American Okanogan, giving a voice to its scenic landscapes seen through the eyes of poets that inhabit or regularly explore the hidden valleys of this sequestered region.” A few poets from the Canadian Okanagan (note spelling) have filtered into the collection from time to time.

This year, Okanogan poets are getting special attention. A half-dozen who read at the potluck last January will be featured next week during the “poetry moment” on Spokane Public Radio’s KPBX FM station at nine a.m. (right after the weather). Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can listen. Over the air, KPBX is at 91.9 in the south Okanogan Valley, 88.5 in the mid-valley, 90.9 in the north valley, and 91.1 in the Methow Valley. You can also stream it at spokanepublicradio.org. If the time’s not convenient or you miss any of the days, wait about a week and you’ll be able to hear the poems on the station’s podcast page.

Thanks to our local broadcasters—Becki, Chris, and Joe at Okanogan Country Radio—for recording the poets at their studio. And, of course, thanks to the poets: Carey Hunter on Monday; Grant Jones, Tuesday; myself, Wednesday; Victoria Jones, Thursday, and Walter Henze, Friday. The readings began this morning (Oct. 12) with Bob Goodwin, Omak, reading “The Land Does Not Care.” If you missed it, do wait for the podcast. It’s worth the wait.

This spirit of community throughout the Okanogan is what helps me grow my roots a little deeper every year.

ROOTS

I’m not rooted to this place.

Born amidst Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes,

My soul demands water.

Uprooted, I found my bliss at last on a coastal island.

Then I met a man who smelled of inland sagebrush and pine.

I could never live there, I told him.

The Okanogan is like an island, he told me.

Distant, detached, land of the disaffected.

He planted my thirsty soul by the river,

Where I found not bliss but blessings.

Years later, I planted his ashes in the earth

That nurtures sagebrush and pine.

I wandered, seeking a place to plant myself.

Still rootless, I returned to live among people

Whose roots are millennia deep.

Roots deep enough to withstand theft of their land.

Deep enough to reconcile my rootlessness.

Some day my ashes will mingle with his

In earth that nurtures sagebrush and pine,

Where my roots will grow eternally deep.

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