Hiking Burstall Pass and reading Paulette Dubé’s mountain poems

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Earlier this summer I discovered Shawna Lemay’s blog Calm Things and have enjoyed reading along as she weaves poetry and photography into her daily life. Today’s post takes its inspiration from her writing there, and also from Paulette Dubé’s poetry.

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Two weeks ago my sister and I hiked Burstall Pass near Kananaskis.

It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day, one that rewarded us with a few unexpected pleasures beginning with the tiny, tart wild-strawberries that were ripe and ready to eat along the first part of the trail and culminating with this view:

Burstall Pass

Since then, I’ve been thinking about and rereading Paulette Dubé’s pair of poetry collections about the mountains around Jasper, First Mountain and Gaits (both published by Thistledown Press). I suspect it was these lines, half remembered as I walked that day, that drew me back to her work:

18

the trail thins then spits me out
into an alpine meadow warm with sunlight
wind full of poplar fluff big as sparrows
I acknowledge the suffering of change here
know that this, too, will pass

(Gaits, page 18)

We had that same experience, of being “spit out” by the trail, twice that day. The first was less than an hour in, when we crossed a small creek and found ourselves on the gravel flats. It was like being at the bottom of a bowl made of mountains. The surrounding peaks made for a gorgeous pot, which we admired as we navigated the rivulets of melt-water flowing down from the glacier, with the sound of gravel crunching beneath our boots.

The second was after a steep climb, just when I (the more out-of-shape sister) needed a break and we turned a corner into an alpine meadow in full bloom.

Burstall Pass

I admire the mountains, but I’ve never understood them. Having lived most of my life on the prairie or the edge of it, I struggle to understand why people love the mountains so much. Dubé’s writing has helped open the mountains up for me. Her spare, yet layered poems reveal secrets I would not have discovered on my own:

3.

this place teaches
how to think
takes a turn unexpected crocus
pair of hairy purple heads
heart of yellow turned to the sun
astringent as dandelion
and as necessary

(Gaits, page 10)

Dymphny Dronyk and I had the privilege of including some of Dubé’s poems in an anthology of Alberta poetry, Home and Away (House of Blue Skies, 2009). In her introduction to her own work, Dubé recalls that “in five years, I logged 5,000 km out on the trails in Jasper National Park. (I know it sounds incredible, but my husband did the math and I trust him.) I would walk for one or two hours, then I would come home and write for an hour” (54).

Her intimate knowledge of the landscape she writes about makes her a sensitive and lyrical guide, and I am so pleased to have found her work.

I’d like to share one more poem of Dubé’s, from First Mountain. This poem is selected for my sister, who is a geologist.

Burstall Pass

Fifty-sixth day:

the sound of creek spanking places cool and moss dark
there
the first stone found me
stone shaped like the right foot, foretells a journey to come

a heart of stone
a guardian watches over you

two left feet
journeys made

one swirled with a red smile
life is thus

(First Mountain, page 33)

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Postscript:

If you would like to read more of Paulette Dubé’s poems, click here and here.

Thank you for reading. I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.