Robert Pack is “one of America’s most eminent nature poets.” I chose his book today because he reminds me of places I have left, but long to be, specifically his poem ‘Bear Grass,’ which I have below. His words bring me back to my summer in the Grand Tetons, walking through fields of wildflowers, watching bears and wildlife, and contemplating existences and philosophies you can’t fathom in an urban world.
Here in northwest Montana in the spring
Blooms a big flower—Bear Grass is its name
Because bear eat the fleshy leaf sheaths after
Winter sleep has much depleted them.
They bloom in intermittent years, stark white,
Composed of a dense pulsing multitude
Of tiny petals like a galaxy—
Or so it pleases me to think of them.
Yet each third year or so, they manage to
Coordinate, another thought I like
To contemplate, appearing all together
As a tidal surge in unison
And fill the forest with a scented glow,
Eerie as moonlight on a cloudless night.
They are extravagantly beautiful—
No one could possibly think otherwise!
So maybe watching this effulgent scene
Should be considered happiness because—
Although I add my thoughts to what I see—
It is impersonal, thus capable
Of helping one forget true sorrows one
Must call one’s own—sorrows that signify
The story of one’s only life, events
Already fixed and inescapable:
A blank-faced parent’s loss of memory,
Desertion of a long-time trusted friend,
A child’s prolonged disease and death. Such thoughts
Cannot for long be banished from the mind.
But who says only happiness that lasts
Can be considered happiness at all?
And who says we’re designed for happiness?
So watching bear grass this white spring, even
For just an hour, in which they bloom as if
Delighting in each other’s company,
Will have to be enough and must suffice
As happiness. I will it so, and so
It is until unknown events contrive
To take me somewhere I don’t want to go;
And may the bears soon satisfy their needs
Where they can pause and eat and stay alive.