Saturday, November 15, 2008

I have entered into the desert,

Map of Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area

The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area (CMPA)
428,156 acres of public land offering diverse scenic and recreational experiences. The CMPA encompasses an extraordinary landscape with deep glacier carved gorges, stunning scenery, wilderness, wild rivers, a rich diversity of plant and animal species, and a way of life for all who live there. The 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway provides access to four campgrounds and the views from Kiger Gorge, East Rim, Big Indian Gorge, Wildhorse and Little Blitzen Gorge overlooks are not to be missed!

Geology: During the Ice Age, glaciers formed in the major stream channels on the mountain. These glaciers dug trenches about one-half mile deep, through layers of hard basalt. The result was four immense U-shaped gorges – Kiger, Little Blitzen, Big Indian, and Wildhorse. The famous notch in the east ridge of Kiger Gorge formed during a later glaciation when a small glacier in Mann Creek Canyon eroded through the ridge top. Massive internal pressures forced the east edge of the Steens upward. The result was a 30-mile-long fault-block mountain with a spectacular and rugged east face that rises one vertical mile above the Alvord Desert. Steens Mountain is the largest fault-block mountain in the northern Great Basin.

That's the earth science.

Here's the poetry. I'm using excerpts from The Poet in the Desert by the extraordinary Charles Erskine Scott Wood to describe this place where my heart returns again and again, where I spent solitary vacations three different years, and where Mike and I spent part of our honeymoon. The photos are mine, taken on one of my vacations alone there.

Beginning in 1912,
Wood (whom I revere) wrote his epic-length poem of over one hundred pages about the Harney Valley area of eastern Oregon that encompasses what is now known as The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.

I have entered into the Desert, the place of desolation.

The Desert confronts me haughtily and assails me with solitude. . .

I have come into the lean and stricken land
Which fears not God, that I may meet my soul . . .

I will question the Silent Ones who have gone before and are
forgotten . . .

Where are you, Truth, where are you?
The Desert is pitiless.
I am frightened of its bigness and its indifference.
I am alone, an atom thrown out from Eternity,
Allotted to do my part.
I will do my part, and it shall be my own.
I refuse to be moulded in the common mould,
None different from another.
I refuse to step regularly according to custom;
To measure myself among the monotonous patterns laid
out before me.
I will be myself and obey the voice within me
Which impetuously cries to be free;
To wander imperiously, destroying the paths,
The moulds and the patterns.
O Truth discover yourself unto me.

The sea of sage-brush, breaking against the purple hills far
And the white alkali-flats which shimmer in the mirage as
beautiful blue lakes, constantly retreating.
The mirage paints upon the sky, rivers with cool willowy banks . . .
I lie down upon the warm sand of the Desert and it seems to me
Life has its mirages, also.

When August noons are hot, good it is to lie
Under an oak or spreading maple, in dry weeds
And grass that, dying, tell of sunburnt summer,
Loosing the soul toward a fellowship
With the unseen wanderer who snatches up
A handful of dust and playfully,
With a child's gesture, whirls it upward.
Good it is to look into the blue,
Between the shading leaves that shift and move;
And looking, dream and muse and speculate
What is the sky?--What is Infinity? . . .
What is a weed?--a tree?--an ant?
What is a dust-whirl? . . .

Behold the signs of the Desert;
The stagnant water-hole, trampled with hoofs . . .

The mountains afar girdle the Desert as a zone of amethyst;
Pale, translucent walls of opal,
Girdling the Desert as Life is girt by Eternity.
They lift their heads high above our tribulation
Into the azure vault of Time . . .

Behold the signs of the Desert:

A buzzard, afloat on airy seas,
Alone, between the two immensities, as I am alone between two
A juniper-tree on a rocky hillside . . .
A basaltic-cliff, embroidered with lichens and illuminated by
the sun, orange and yellow . . .

Silence. Invincible. Impregnable. Compelling the soul to stand

forth to be questioned.



Anonymous said...

The desert
is God's reminder
of the way
He can create beauty
with diverse poles.

Citizen of Earth said...

What a post!
Such imagery
Such images!

Thank you for the wonderful pics and the words by CES Wood

This made my day
And will keep me from my chores
Just a bit longer

Anonymous said...

Lydia--what an amazing pictorial to go with the beautiful poem. I saved a web archive of this so I can return. Your photos are amazing.


Wayfaring Wanderer said...

I am also mesmerized by the imagery and images found within this post! Fantastic :)

j said...

Apparently deserts aren't all dust and tumbleweeds! ... these are incredible photographs, nicely punctuated by the poem. My favorite is the one of you in between the tire tracks (it is dryly humorous), but there are so many beautiful and stark scenes here.

I am intrigued by the idea of solo vacations. That sounds so restorative. Maybe someday.

Unknown said...

What an amazing journey!
I know the pictures are a limitation to the view. I never could capture the magic of the desert in my photographs. So I can only imagine the real impact of being there.

Unknown said...

There are times when a journey to the desert is exactly what the soul thirsts for. You have captured it for us.

Lydia said...

Your poetry describes the desert, especially this place, so well. Thank you.

Citizen of Earth,
I'm happier than happy that you liked it so much, since I thought about your posts while I was working on this one.

Wow - that you want to return to the post makes me hope you can visit Steens Mountain one day. (Well, make that a minimum of three days....)

Wayfaring Wanderer,
YOU calling this fantastic makes me think that my post showed some of the majesty of the desert. :)

Yea, that one I took of myself with the timer was a kick. You can be more experimental on a solo vacation since it's your agenda, or no agenda (my fave).
Yes, much more than dust and tumbleweeds....the desert is so wild but so fragile, and unspeakably beautiful.

Imagining is a good thing! You can go anywhere that way, or many places in one day. :)

And you have described what I hoped to capture. Thank you.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Did you know that Art Garfunkel walked across America?

He did it over a series of shorter walks that took 10 years back in the 80s

I mention this because the shots of you alone in the desert surrounded by that fantastic view are so evocative of great adventure.

Bizarrely - it also made me think of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer meets his spirit guide in the wilderness (played by Johnny Cash)

Some fantastic photos and a lot to think about

Lydia said...

You told me something I did not know about Art Garfunkel. I saw him backstage in Portland around 1977 when my ex-husband's brother was a roadie for him. He was like vapor...
My times there in the desert really were great adventure. I even had to change a tire out there by myself!
You will probably be disappointed to know that I've never seen The Simpsons - but the episode you described sounds pretty amazing...

Elizabeth Halt said...

wow - what an amazing set of photos and I loved the poem that accompanied them!

Lydia said...

Thank you! I have so many photos of my trips there and it's fun doing "something" with them this way.
CES Wood's "The Poet in the Desert" is a phenomenal, lengthy, autobiographical poem. The snippets I used in my post were from the Prologue. OPB did that amazing special on him that you can see at the link in the post. :)

HSG said...

Beautiful and incredible. Thank you for this great post.

Near Alvord was the first time in my life I had ever witnessed wild horses... truly a sight to behold. It was shortly after a soak in Alvord and a pack trip into the Steens when I came across them.

This land is ... inspiring. Your words and photos do it justice.

Lydia said...

Hot Springs Guy,

How really nice it is to hear from you and to know you love the area so much also. Thank you for your compliments on the post. They mean a lot to me.

Aren't the wild horses an honor to see? I saw some outside of Frenchglen one year and then my husband and I saw the actual Keiger herd up above Diamond.

Ben said...

Thank you for sharing this post with me, I love it!! The poem is really powerful. "I refuse to be moulded in the common mould." That's my favorite line. Your pictures are absolutely breathtaking, especially the ones of the valleys. I'm very jealous of your trip! It's very good to talk with someone who cherishes their times of solitude and nature.

Lori ann said...

lydia, thank you for sharing this with me, what a lovely way to start my day! I love the desert (as you saw) and i can see that we are kindred spirits, like you said these wonderful meetings.

your photos are beautiful and the poem perfect. i tried to choose a favorite line, but coulden't. Thank you again for sharing and for leaving such kind words for me.

x lori

Lydia said...

Ben~ O my, I came to respond to Lori ann's recent comment and find this one from you last December. Forgive me for not replying then (it was probably the Christmas rush) - although I doubt you'll ever read this now. I agree with you that it is nice to share with someone who also enjoys these things.

Lori ann~ I so appreciate your coming by to view this favorite post of mine. Yes, I believe we are kindred spirits and I look forward to many more visits to your beautiful blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! I'm in love with all the photos you have shared in this post. What a lovely photographic presentation of your tour to desert with the rhythm of the poem. I love this place!!!

Lydia said...

Riyadh~ If you love this place then believe me it loves you and calls to you as it did me. I will send a wish on the wind that you may visit it one day.

Anonymous said...

Aww... What a sweet thing to wish... Thanks a lot Aunt.

mythopolis said...


Lydia said...

Riyadh~ Nearly one-half year later I found your reply. That means you are one-half year closer to visiting Oregon's high desert. :)

mythopolis~ And back at ya.

Brooke said...

wow! this looks amazing! I will definitely have to go here!! love the photos!!

Lydia said...

Brooke~ Just found your comment and so very much appreciated it.



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