Bunchgrass Memories

In the beginning of July, I was a lucky participant at Fishtrap’s Outpost workshop, a week-long writing workshop that takes place on the Zumwalt Prairie, owned by the Nature Conservancy as North America’s largest native grassland.

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Outhouse at Outpost

This little gem of waving grass and wildflowers, bear tracks, and coyote song is nestled in the notch of Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County, an island of granite mountains and lush valley bordered by Washington and Idaho. I spent a week here  resetting my creative self.

Since my experience on the Zumwalt, I have launched full speed ahead into life. Though my creative space is now consumed by other work, the vignettes below take me back to the moments of stillness, openness, and connection I experienced while writing on the prairie. This unfolding and unraveling of words created special little gems, a reminder that even a few minutes with paper and pen can immortalize our feelings of a place.

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Swallows meet us as we arrive. Cloaked in blue, they dip and turn, forked wings slicing through heavy air. They are backed by billowing clouds dragging across the sky. Spears of lightning do the same, zig zagging, cutting through the slate sky.

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Zumwalt and Wallowas

Our van bounces on rutted road- a path that keeps out the ordinary riffraff and welcomes the adventurous. All around us is water falling from sky- pooling in pastures, streaming down the sides of the vehicle. We catch glimpses of snow-capped magic emerging from beneath mountain clouds. All around is endless grassland, come alive with the storm.

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Bottlebrush Squirreltail

The prairie is asleep, dark and still, shadows of bunchgrass now gray in the light of my headlamp. I turn it off, letting my eyes adjust. A soft rain begins to fall, individual drops pinging against my tent in perfect rhythm. Thunder answers, a deep rumble further off, almost a whisper.

Many miles away, lightning plays its light dance, brief bursts illuminating the sky. It’s my own show; I am the the only perceptible living thing still awake on this dark, still grassland.

I watch, listen, and breathe in the sweet, crisp, damp air. The shower passes, and the night is quiet once more.

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Follow the first hawk you see.

She will guide you on a thermal, warm and buoyant. You will feel your wings vibrate as you turn yourself in the air.

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Not a hawk, but a harrier

Down below is endless blowing grass, shape-shifting like clouds, a world upside down.

See what the hawk sees: the smallest movement at the base of bunchgrass. Glide silently overhead, tracking your shadow trailing behind you.

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Coyote song celebrates the day: a lesson in gratitude.

Meadowlark chatter celebrates the morning: the coming of light after a restless slumber.

Will we do the same:
Sing with the coming of the sun and sing with its leaving too?

Will we embrace our kind at sunrise, grateful for the unexpected that is to come and holding close what is good?

Will we dance with our pack at night, joyously savoring their smiles, their love, their complicated existence?

Or will we let the day pass by, unmarked?

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come to the crest of the hill and look back at all that has come before

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3 thoughts on “Bunchgrass Memories

  1. The Zumwalt is a special place indeed! I’m so happy you were able to experience it and to write so beautifully about it! Love, Marcy

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