On Edges

HERE in the Klamath Mountains, this far country we—my wife, two young children, and I—are calling for a summer of months home, the meadow gives way to forest, forest to river canyon, slope to slope to rocky ridge. It’s striking, wild, beautiful—and confusing. Things hide in every kind of light. Seem at times less like themselves. Then, a moment later, more.

For instance, on the upper river trail, there are, after the first switchback and for the next quarter of a mile, no Doug fir, sugar pine, or madrone—the trees we’ve gotten used to seeing, to putting our hands to as we hike—but only scrubby oaks, live oak and tanoak, drifts of black acorns and the small coins of dead leaves crunching underfoot. And when we look up: there, across the expanse of canyon, a thin waterfall plummets and disappears. We stop and stare. Most of the creeks have by this time in July dried, gone blind, but here, at this sudden corner, we spy a thin, horsetail falls.

For the wonder of it we drop our packs and picnic on a rock with a view of the far falls. This rock itself is covered in a spongy mat of moss and lichen, and after apples and cheese sandwiches I pull out a guidebook to try to figure out what it is we’re sitting on: Hooded Bone? Common Beard? Hairy Screw? What seems definite on the page grows strange and unpredictable on the stone, the one not giving way to the other but moving through and through, no clear edge because it’s all edge, a mossy stew.

In my confusion, though, I take solace in knowing I am not alone. Of his first hike in this area, David Rains Wallace, author of the seminal evolutionary natural history The Klamath Knot, writes: “It was the strangest landscape I had ever seen. It is more like some untidy temperate deciduous forest or tropical rainforest, species promiscuously tumbled together without regard for ecological proprieties.” This Klamath forest we haunt is indeed edged and various, the lines of straight, tall Doug firs, sugar pines, and ponderosas split by the hoary wanderings of black oaks, Oregon white oaks, and leaning, leggy, crimson-barked madrone. Above Shady Creek, where the sun simply never shines, you’ll find cedars too—incense and western red. Hemlock in places, and bay laurel, big leaf maple, alder, ash, and yew. Tim Palmer, in A Field Guide to Oregon Rivers, calls the Rogue River canyon “central to the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion—biologically the richest temperate coniferous forest on earth.” Our every step offers some new nap and weave, some curious droop or lift of needle, a certain striking line of leaf. Here, nothing predominates, nothing becomes the norm; turn the corner and the forest turns with you, turns into something new. Yet, strangely, this richness is built on tumult—the wider ecoregion split and, a ridge away, split again—and hardship—the soils notoriously poor, nearly half the year hot and rainless. I grew up in Eastern Montana, in a high desert country that has never not been true frontier, yet this place is just as hard and twice as wild. These Klamaths are a place of deep isolation and deeper beauty. And of thrilling, unexpected, dangerous edges.

And here we are. A young family, the four of us, alone.


THE SUMMER grinds on.

No rain at all since early June, and the temperature each day now tops one hundred. The grass in the sloping teardrop of meadow below our cabin has gone yellow and brittle, the oxeye daisies that a month ago opened wide their thousand white eyes have burnt to dry stalks topped with blossom-char. By midafternoon, there’s nothing for it but the forest shadows, but the farther promise of the Rogue.

Halfway down the canyon we hear it pull and roar. At the sandy bar we find the water has dropped once more, the canyon rocks and boulders in dry and drier relief, piles of driftwood and riverteeth shaped like twisting salmon or the wings of bats bleaching in the sun. We climb the biggest stones, their edges wildly river-warped and sinuous. Pebbles trapped in small concavities, we’ve heard, are tumbled roughly by the eddying waters; over the years they drill impossibly smooth-sided wells, caves big and dark enough for hiding, for fires. We’ve never seen anything quite like these Rogue River rocks. We run our hands over the curl and wave of each, we crouch and clamber, heft speckled pebbles and hunks of slick red stone. “Water did this. Did this to boulders, to solid canyon walls,” I tell my children, Walter, age six, and Edie, age four. “Some ocean-where, you’ll find a little of this rock. And here, in this whorl, is a bit of river.” Walter and Edie lean in, poke their fingers into shadow, into water, and with this still bit of river paint their names upon the rock, though like that the wind licks each letter back to dust and boulder.

On the crescent moon of beach we splash and swim, recline and wonder, our attention given first to the sky, the few high, thin clouds scattered over the ridge, then the skin of the river itself, sinuous and shifting, erupting now and again in great green boils. “What’s doing that?” Walter asks. “What’s underneath the river?”

“More river,” I tell him, and try to explain what little I know of canyon hydrology.

Edie shakes her head, interrupts: “I think the water underneath just wants to be on top. To feel the air, to see the sky.”

To children it’s obvious: the edge is where the action is, where one thing might become another.


WHEN I MYSELF was a boy we would once a summer leave the dry plains of our eastern Montana home for the cool, blue Beartooth Mountains. There, after a day or three exploring camp, we would set ourselves to the stone flank of Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana, and hike the three miles up to Mystic Lake. My father, fishing rod in hand, six-pack of beer in his green army-surplus pack, would hike ahead, his strides purposeful and sure, his broad back disappearing among the pines. My mother, though, walked with us, her three young children, eddy of complaints and hungers and wonders. We ran and tarried, we circled and sang. We often left the trail to squat down and study some cabbagey mushroom or the delicate purple flowers lifting themselves up from the gnarled, mossy roots of a tree. “That’s where the fairies dance,” my mother would say. “That’s where, on the full moon, they have their feasts.” It’s not that I believed her, exactly, but that I’d already known. She’d only given breathy shape to something I felt down in my bones.

The trail rose for a time with the creek. We often paused to rinse our faces, hop from rock to rock, pull caddisflies from the stream bottom and watch as they hauled their long, thin legs back into tiny, perfect homes of sand and sticks and river stones. Where the trail bent south and away, went switchbacking up the mountain proper, my mother showed us how you could shuck your shoes and wade into the pool below the falls. She took a breath, then, and disappeared beneath the wall of falling water. A moment later she stuck her hand back out, motioned for us to follow. In turn we stepped beneath the heavy, wet, thundering falls and rose into a secret cave, loud and dripping, but tall and deep enough to stand, to grip one another’s hands and laugh at this impossibility, a house two parts stone and one part water. I reached out and touched the ribbony curve of it, tested a finger, my fist and arm. The water pounded. Truly, it took everything I had to hold my arm there, to open my hand and feel through both edges of the falls the mountain light.

Farther up the trail, along a bright, dizzy switchback, there was a plaque with a boy’s name, two dates that subtracted to eleven years. He’d been hiking with his scout troop, had fallen to his death. Every year my mother made us stop and look, made us say a prayer and promise to be safe. Had he been laughing, horsing around? Had he stepped wrong on a loose rock? Had someone accidentally bumped his shoulder? Standing there, the sheer, rocky drop fifty feet or more, I hoped the fall was fast, nonsensical, that he didn’t have time to be scared. I wondered about his parents, about the boys who saw him fall. Did he fall still in their dreams? Which trails would they now trust? Which edges? By the time my own tally of years eclipsed the falling boy’s, my father, too, had died—though far from the mountains, his bones showing through his chemical-yellow skin as he lay wasting in his hospital bed.


THE SUMMER before this wilderness sojourn of ours, Walter and I drove south to scout things out. We wanted to know what we were getting into. We circled the irrigation pond, we studied the gas lamps and propane stove and fridge, the solar panels and satellite phone. We ran in the meadow, collected rocks and sticks, hiked down to the river and splashed in the water, got our first look at those sinuous river rocks. On the way back up to the cabin—the trail is just a mile, though it traverses nearly a thousand vertical feet of mountain slope—Walter, only five then, didn’t make it more than a few minutes before he turned, lifted up his arms, and told me how weary he was (like his father, he’s often given to overly dramatic declaration) and asked me to carry him. And I did. But we talked on that hike up, when I could catch my breath, about how next summer he’d hike this trail all by himself. “I’ll be six,” he said, grabbing at fir branches as he rode my shoulders.

And this summer Walter knows he is not what he was a year ago. He is older, stronger.

Even as a colicky baby, wind and light and the branches of trees above calmed him, and across the eight weeks we’ve been living here at the homestead, Walter has in many ways become his best self. His attention is deeper, his observation more keen, his way with creatures—including human creatures—more careful. He even begins to plan ahead. On the way down to the river he leaves offerings along the trail, offerings for the boy he’ll be those hours later on the hike back up—a sheaf of shed madrone bark, a pile of black acorns, or, the best by far, a cold drink at the cache, a tiny brick-lined cellar at the midpoint of the trail.

Most days Walter makes the hike back up with only a little cajoling, only a stern word or two. As we hike, we talk about how he has gone from place to place, has leapt over that edge, and the hike itself has become the way he might gauge his growth. Walter listens, shares, and, I think, believes. Edie has tried her best as well, but she is only four, and many of the mountain’s edges are simply too hard for her. With every hike, though, she has gone a little farther before I carried her, known—slowly, day by summer day—more of the trail as her own.

In the spring of my eleventh year, my mother handed me my father’s long-handled shovel. Since his death, we’d gotten by with help from my grandfather, from uncles, from neighbor men. But I was old enough now. It was time I took over the job of irrigating our hay fields. I was scared, excited. I’d get to use my father’s old Honda dirt bike and his big rubber boots, but I’d have to wake every four hours when the water was running, ride out in the moonshot dark to reset canvas dams and siphons.

Even now I carry in my bones the thrill and fear of those memories, can feel in my throat the hot, dry midnight of summer in eastern Montana, the mud shaling from the hips of my knee-blown work jeans as I dressed in the dark of the porch and swung open the screen door. Even when I didn’t need to ride the motorcycle, I rode the motorcycle. Kicked it to life and sped through the night, the moon three shades brighter than the sputtering headlight. At the field, I walked the dike. Sometimes, I had to wait ten or fifteen minutes for the water to reach the end of the field and so leaned up against the fence, or maybe sat right down in the dust to read the auguries of stars. If I’d timed it just right, though, the water was already at the edge of the field, and I hustled back down the dike, set a dam farther down the ditch—snick and suck of cut mud as I stabbed the canvas into the bank with the shovel blade—and then pulled the old dam. The water bulged and rushed down the ditch, and I watched it go, waited a moment for the water to pool and deepen behind the new dam, the canvas straining, before gathering up the spent siphons and resetting them, water flooding this new thirsty strip of field.

Though I messed up plenty of times—thistle and foxtail blooming at the shaggy foot of too many fields, for a week the north road flooded beyond passing—I did it. I irrigated the whole place. And once you’ve irrigated a three-hundred-acre farm, there’s not much you can’t do. In my growing-up life, I was god-blessed, again and again, with chances to measure myself against the actual world. Whether stretching barbwire or butchering sheep, hiking in the mountains or hunting antelope, much of my young life was splendid with physical edges. I didn’t always succeed, though every failure was as important, in time, as every success. And I didn’t always like it—in fact, there were whole seasons I prayed I might do anything rather than wake in the night to irrigate—but I see now how mightily it mattered.

And though I know they’re young—have to keep reminding myself they are still so young—I’ll admit I have, since Walter and Edie started walking and talking and making sense of the world, felt in me an unease at my children’s relative life of ease, at the gates we put across the stairs, the days scheduled around playdates, the soft, grassy lawn ringing our comfortable house in town. Which is perhaps the very reason we’re here in the Klamaths, hours from town, meadow and forest and river our only neighbors, our kith and measure.

THE STAKES are high, and the edges unpredictable. The way brush and scrubby trees obscure the trail—until there you are, toeing the frost-cracked, tumbling rock, the world giving way precipitously beneath you. You stand there in the pure air and feel each muscle, each wing of bone. You lean on the stories you’ve been told.

We are this summer two hours of twisting mountain roads away from the nearest regional hospital. A oneway radio phone powered by a solar panel is our only link to the outside world. My wife, Liz, and I know we have to be ready to deal with what may come wherever we might be, at whichever edge of meadow, mountain, or river we might find ourselves in need. And so, with this in mind, long before we decamped for the Klamaths, we began collecting gear: good hiking pants for everybody, long-sleeved, UVA-resistant hiking shirts, hiking shoes. The shoes were the hardest sell, at least for Edie. She’s always had a taste for the beautiful, the fancy, the extravagant—and, well, sturdy hiking shoes don’t quite fit the bill. But she wears them, grudgingly, out into the meadow and down the trail. In the cabin, though, she shucks them first chance she gets, slides on her sparkling purple slippers instead.

Though we don’t own a television and our children watch few movies, Disney’s round, smiling anthropomorphs anyway pervade our culture. We talked about actual animals, their beauty and dignity, the danger they might pose: bears, cougars, even the soft-eyed deer who sometimes stamp their slender forehooves at us and grunt. They are their own, we told Walter and Edie. Just like you. And now, here in late summer, when at the river we catch silver-sided juvenile steelhead called half-pounders, we say a prayer and with a sure blow to the back of the head kill them quickly, eat those nights good and wild, pink flesh falling from steaming bones.

Early in the summer I spent hours with a heavy-duty weedeater cutting a rough yard beneath the old apple trees and the Doug fir in the meadow. I was thinking of ticks, of course, and of fire protection. I was thinking Walter and Edie could yet hide in the tall grass when they wanted, as well as tumble and play on the cut grass, which would be a space where other things couldn’t hide. We hadn’t heard a mountain lion yet, but they were on my mind as I swung the weed-eater this way and that—sweat pouring off me, the strap biting into my back—as I pruned back one edge for another.

The trail down to the river only needed one rerouting, where an ancient fir had fallen; it wasn’t exactly dangerous but made for easier going after I sawed off the stobs and carved a new trail out of the slope above the upended stump. But the trail to Meadow Creek was steep in parts and narrow in others, slicked along its length with years of sheeny, dry madrone leaves; and a few sections had washed entirely away, the cliff face skidding down twenty, thirty, forty feet. The first time we hiked there, we went slow, held hands, and Liz and I passed Walter and Edie from one to the other of us across the washouts. But when we got there, my God—you must rise and go now to little Meadow Creek, which begins as a rill high in the Klamaths north and west of Rattlesnake Ridge and crashes down the slopes to the wild Rogue, its mouth two miles downstream from Horseshoe Bend: I tell you Meadow Creek is, incarnate, the first creek, curving through fern banks and big leaf maple, strewn with a rainbow of creek stones, the water clear and cold and falling, ever falling, like a song.

After even a few minutes creekside, we knew we’d spend much of our summer here—reading, exploring, picnicking in the cool, riverine breeze. So Liz and I made a pact that we’d work the trail until Walter and Edie could hike it easily themselves. And with shovel, rock bar, and Pulaski, with help from Walter and Edie, who liked to hike in front of us as we worked, raking the trail with their hands and feet and bottoms, we did. We cleared and widened the trail, built earthen steps along the steepest parts, hacked out of cliff faces shelves reinforced with thick deadfall, shelves wide enough for two, as long as one is small, to go abreast.

And there was more, of course, much more, that we did in preparation—from wilderness first aid classes to morning meetings on how to hike the steep trails or play safely in the river, to stories at bedtime about mistakes I’d made as a boy, mistakes Walter and Edie would then know not to make—yet for these preparations, these edges filed down, pushed back, unsteepened, we packed few toys, and those we did bring the kids long ago abandoned in favor of sticks and feathers. We very much want Walter and Edie to run out into the meadow, down into the forest, play in these edge spaces not exactly safe—they are, after all, edges—but for our work somewhat safer. We want them to begin to know their limits and so create themselves.

In her Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit writes: “For me, childhood roaming was what developed self-reliance, a sense of adventure, imagination, a will to explore, to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back.” Beyond the tragedy of never being lost, of never finding your way back, the trouble is, I think, that the easy, the sanitized, and the always-at-hand are just as dangerous. The only edge left, when one is backed so far away from them, is internal—a great, sharp, sourceless fear or blinding misconception around which one tries to assemble a life, though that invisible knife goes on knifing up through the middle of it all.

Though we do what we might to keep from losing all definition—the water we are shattering beyond gathering on the rocks below—still, we shimmy out to that vista, that edge. And we feel, then, deep within us, the hollow tremble that lets us know who we are and how, this way or that, we might be.

Two hundred feet below us, in a wilderness of mountain lions, sudden cliffs, and poison oak, our six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter sit in the dusty trail

YET IF THIS IS TRUE, if we are nothing more than the edges we’ve survived and failed and yet found a way to articulate, then there’s more, though I hesitate, that I must tell you: just weeks before Walter and I first drove to scout out the Rogue, Edie, three years old at the time, broke in the span of a week both her arms. She fell one June evening, summer light thick and golden.

She and Walter had been climbing the ladder to the playhouse, sliding down the other side, circling around and climbing up again, laughing, jostling. For the heat of the afternoon and our lack of air conditioning, they hadn’t napped earlier in the day, and it was getting late. But they were having such fun, so we let them play. Liz and I lazily cleared the dinner dishes from the table on the deck. We’d grilled salmon, opened a nice bottle of

wine. It had been, despite the heat, the lack of naps, a good day, a lovely evening. I turned to carry a stack of dishes inside, and at the corner of my vision caught the blur of my daughter falling from the playhouse ladder.

Her sawblade screams tore through us. For the need of those screams we all broke into tears, even Walter, who had, in their race up the ladder, pushed her off. We yelled at him. We wanted, somehow, to yell at ourselves. The break wasn’t visible, but she cradled her arm. She screamed and screamed. At the hospi tal, we were told her elbow was broken, a break that is indeed often invisible, often hard to heal. They slid two long metal pins into her arm, to keep bones meant to move from moving, and slapped on a heavy, bulbous cast, nearly six inches in diameter at the elbow, the bulk and weight of it pulling Edie’s shoulders cockeyed, hitching her every small step.

A week to the day later, packing the car for a trip to visit family, I helped Edie into her car seat, where, before I strapped her in, she leaned to get something and for the weight of that cast on her elbow lost her balance.

I had turned to set something in the front seat. I lunged for her. I missed.

She fell some dozen inches to the floor of the car, tumbled to the curb, and I was reduced to lifting my daughter from the ground, her screams again sawing at the air. Even for her sobs she was already trying to tell me she didn’t need to go to the hospital. “No hospital, Daddy. I fine. No hospital.” The kink in the middle of her right forearm said otherwise.

Later, the same doctor we had seen not so many days ago bent over our daughter and shook her head. Looked up at the two of us. Shook her head again. “Never,” she said, her mouth a hard line. “I’ve never had someone come in with two broken arms in a week.”

Three days later, Child Protective Services showed up at the house. Five of them, including a detective with the local police department. They tromped through the backyard and put their hands on the playhouse ladder. They marched me out to the street, made me show them how I opened the car door, placed Edie in her car seat. They interviewed us all together. Then showed up again the next day to interview each of us alone. They had Edie sit on her reading chair, those ridiculous casts propped on her lap, and moved to close the bedroom door on us. Edie was scared. She didn’t want these strangers to close the door on her mom and dad. The latch clicked shut, Edie whimpered and cried, and I was furious. At them. At us. At Edie’s bones. Absolutely furious.

I remember thinking they must know this kind of thing could happen to anyone. An ordinary edge, a bad step. A slip. A fall. Didn’t they know? Didn’t I know?


AND STILL, I come back to the river.

Here we are, the four of us, in the very depths of the canyon, facing once again the long, hot, dusty hike back up from the Rogue. We’re sun-bleared, tired, the joy of splashing in the fast tannic water forgotten as we turn ourselves toward the mile of trail that switchbacks up the mountain.

The end of August now, and we’re not so far away from the end of all this, or at least the end of all of us here together.   In a few days, we’ll drive the two bone-rattling hours over the mountain pass, and then the three blurred, burning hours up the interstate—and then we’ll be home. We will be back in that other world, where Walter will start kindergarten, Edie preschool, and Liz substitute teaching. Where after three or four days, I’ll turn around and drive right back, and for the next three months then make this long commute: eight days on the mountain, three back home. Moving back and forth, from world to world, hoping I can keep it all straight.

It will be in some ways a relief. These summer months living here as a family have been glorious and hard. We have thrilled to the spill of stars and the howling of wolves, and we have ached for lack of community. We have danced in the grass and laughed and let spring water pour over our faces, and we have in the heat of the afternoon yelled, stalked off, slammed doors. We have painted pictures, written poems, told stories to one another late into the moony night. Yet, too, those very nights we have dreamed of our house in town, our neighbors and friends, our home. We have as a family pushed ourselves right to the edge of this edgeful place—and even for a nasty round of mosquito bites, a split chin, a burnt thumb, we have made it. We hope, anyway, that by next week we can say we’ve made it.

We watch for poison oak as we tramp along the river trail. We turn up the first switchback, and the leaves of madrone and scrub oak shatter-crash beneath our shoes, the black eyes of acorns too. The heat a heavy hand on all of us. We scramble around the rootwad of the downed fir, and Walter slows and lags behind. Edie

drags her feet, pulls on the back of Liz’s shirt. I promise cold drinks at the cache, which gets both kids a little farther before they slow again. I try my lecture, the usual, practiced spiel about how brave and strong they are to hike up from the river every day. That’s worth another fifty yards, but then Walter sighs and sits right down in the duff, Edie lifts her arms and asks to be picked up. Liz and I resort now to geographic facts, to fatalism: there’s simply no other way up. In response, Edie plops down by her brother, and Walter chucks a rock at a snag.

Liz and I are out of answers, out of strategies. We keep hiking. It’s been a long, hot day, a summer of long, hot days, and we’ve been right at the edge the whole time. Soon, for the turnings of the trail, we can no longer see our children. We shift around the next shift of mountainside, and in the shade of a lightning-split madrone stop and breathe and wait.

We wait. We wait a little longer.

Two hundred feet below us, in a wilderness of mountain lions, sudden cliffs, and poison oak, our six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter sit in the dusty trail, not even halfway up the mountain.

Liz covers her face with her hands, begins to softly cry. At times like this it seems the whole season has been a kind of falling, from edge to edge, as if down a set of stairs and you can’t stop, can’t for the life of you grab hold of anything. We’ve asked ourselves many times why we did this. The kids have asked the same. Catching newts in the pond the other day, Walter said, with a smile on his face, “I bet no one else in my class has caught a newt!” I was pleased. Then Walter thought a moment more. “Yeah,” he continued, his face scrunching up, “why are we the only ones who do things like this?”

I didn’t have an answer. Or I knew whatever answer I might give he’d heard before—and yet he keeps asking. Which feels just about the situation now: I know why we did this, and I don’t know why we did this.

I touch Liz’s shoulder, shake my head. We’re both sad and happy this is about to end, both sad she’ll be so happy to take the kids back home.

I start hiking back down the trail.

I’ll promise some more. Cajole some more. Carry Edie for a time. Hope Walter doesn’t throw a fit. What else is there to do? I step over the blind creek—and around the corner here they come. Edie first, then Walter. He’s found a crooked red madrone stick, jabs it with each step into the trail. “It’s good to have a stick,” he says, as if that’s the only answer he’s ever really needed.

“My legs are so strong,” Edie adds, stomping up the trail. “I just hike and hike, and my legs get strong like this!” She grits her teeth and keeps at this thin trail that skirts the edge of a mountain. Meets it with this step. And the next.

WHEN LATE in the Klamath summer you take a nightwalk, button your snap-shirt to your chin, tie a bandanna around your head, tuck the tips of your ears up underneath the cotton.

When just days before you leave this place for good, or some few of you leave for good, you take a nightwalk, remember to heft a river stick, feel it in your hands, how it arcs in front of you, its weight ripping through the darkening air. Slide your jackknife in your pocket, a flashlight in the other. You’re only going half a mile, you’ll follow trails you know by heart—but still.

When you take a nightwalk, above all things act brave. Growl and stomp. Make your hands into talons, claws, bony fins. Your children are the best at this. Watch them stalk down through the burnt daisies, their dark, animal eyes little slits, their spread elbows the shoulder bones of wolves or bears.

When you take a nightwalk, you move through the last edge of light into the first edge of shadow, from the edge of meadow into the edge of forest, from starshine to the star-pierced arms of fir and pine. Like the belly of a whale, it’s always some shade of night in the Klamath forest, and the night’s oceanic ribs seem close enough to touch. You reach out, to see if you indeed might hold them, but the dark whale-belly that is the mountain gloaming ripples and rearranges just beyond your reach.

When you take a nightwalk, follow the forest trail for a time, then move into the deeper woods, leaves and sticks beneath your steps, the scratch of unseen salal and tanoak along your arms. When after some span of wandering your son finds a deadfall log, take a seat beside him, beside your daughter and your wife. Feel the air that is the rippling night funneling in and out of your suddenly wonderful lungs. Hear it revolve the same in theirs.

When you take a nightwalk, you become at once smaller and larger, part of the night and not, bits of you and those you love drifting in the wind, catching in the trees, falling to the earth, riding creekshine down unto the wild river.

When you take a nightwalk and hear the sounds—oh, the squawks and songs and rustles and howls you hear on a nightwalk in the Klamath forest—you might turn and ask your little daughter what she thinks that sound is—that one. Right there.

“An animal,” she’ll say.

“Which one?” you’ll ask.

“All of them,” she’ll answer. Then stand, step deeper into the woods, and lift both her thin, strong, healed arms. She’ll point into the black distances.

“There,” she’ll say, “that’s where they are. At the edge of the dark.” O 

Joe Wilkins is the author of a novel, Fall Back Down When I Diepraised as “remarkable and unforgettable” in a starred review at Booklist and short-listed for the First Novel Award and the Pacific Northwest Book Award. He is also the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and four collections of poetry, including Thieve When We Were Birds, winner of the Oregon Book Award. Wilkins grew up north of the Bull Mountains of eastern Montana and lives now with his family in western Oregon, where he directs the creative writing program at Linfield University.


  1. So enjoyed reading this! I’m reading it to CA camping at Des Chutes state park and remembering people and places and smiling . Karen

  2. Wonderful writing!! You took me there!!! Our two older sons, now 42 and 37, really grew up out in the wild- always climbing the sandrocks or exploring the creek! Their lives were one with the natural world. But by the time our daughters came along, born in the mid-90’s, their childhoods were different- more taken with technology. The difference is quite apparent. But we still always get away for a bit each summer and hear to the mountains to camp. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  3. Simply wonderful read. Spent a few years living on two acres at Otter Rock – pushing daughter in her stroller into blackberry hedges to eat while I picked. Thanks for the visceral words…

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