From Turtle Island, New Directions Press, 1974
Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles —
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.
I have had a mentor, whom I have never met, for the past forty-plus years. My dear friend Larry introduced me to Gary Snyder long ago, and before I could hear his voice I began to imagine it. Soon thereafter, living higher up in the Sierra, I would travel down to Gary’s town, Nevada City, California, to see him read with his beat era compatriots: Allen Ginsberg, Nanao Sakaki, Peter Orlovsky and other local poets of San Juan Ridge.
Gary doesn’t know he’s my mentor. He doesn’t know I take one breath after another. But his influence on me is no less complete. Hearing him breathe life into his poems changed me forever. Seeing that poems are really songs blinded me with sunlight. Learning the empty spaces between the words are equally important alongside the sounds we make was revelatory. Making sounds became enough. Meaning took second chair to how does this sound and the sound this idea makes feel in my body?
Hearing Gary read freed me to read, and to begin to learn to write things down in my own way.
Beyond poetry, Gary has been a faithful voice for the earth and her creatures. Some see him standing in opposition to evil and destruction. Truly, rather, he stands for the future in the most comprehensive and compassionate way.
Gary has been a steadfast miner of the mind, and his example leads me in the same direction. His zen did not have a capital Z. It was dirt zen, daily zen, breath zen. Dogen would have approved.
I learned about łiving in the mountains, in nature, in the wild, from Gary. I learned to listen and look. I learned how to chant the Shingyo when I came across a road-killed deer on Highway 89. Cynthia and I hauled it back home, still warm, and she dressed it out. We ate the meat and hung the pelt on our wall. The kids grew up knowing this is a way to be.
Gary was one man who taught me to be a man. At a time when models were scarce and a lot of bad ones were abundant, Gary modeled masculinity with tenderness, wisdom about tools and trees and trucks with a deep understanding of our entire history and the subtlety of language, and a commitment to intellectual rigor that was inspiring.
Today, Gary turns 83, an age I never envisioned any of my tribe reaching. His path is one of the heart, following riprap trails from Washington to Berkeley to India to Kyoto and back to the Ridge.
I am truly thankful and proud to have followed along behind.