What Beauty Does

My memory of a perfect scent: pine, sage, and cypress;
My friends' faith in the power of rough and winding paths
to take me up a mountain and bring me back.

Specimens plucked from that mountain's pastures:
Indian paintbrush, sego lily, ordinary wildflowers.

How I got them is a story of friendship and passion
Nancy, now a doctor, once a shy sophmore in college
Her husband Mike, the second, better one, and their obsession
with the Great Outdoors—hence an Idaho address.

Boise's Northend is a throwback to neighborhoods American—nice
               homes
Next to two-story garden apartments down the street from a 
               mansion.
Bikes and dogs and hand-pushed lawn mowers.
Where they dwell is a bungalow that spirits Memphis, Tennessee
circa 1971:

The Who blasting off a turntable, marijuana-scented air, boys with
              long hair,
girls wearing their boyfriends' blue jeans, bourbon and acid.
Paperbacks, record albums, text books piled up—azaleas on the
              parkway;
a howl of buzzing bees late spring just before graduation.

Their bungalow has dueling computers and a real backyard.
While Nancy and Mike's boxes are slowly being unpacked,
Their bicycles are carefully racked inside their front door.

Everyone is a thief out West. If you leave your bikes on the porch
They disappear. If you find water, someone else will divert it.
There are those who fight about the wind. Others the sun.
All angling for rights—mineral, water, air—that only comes with
              political power.

Oh, my friends who love to hike, to ski, to bike and me, they love
Are driving me from Boise to Ketchum through mountain and 
               valley beauty.

High desert heat is clear, dry and when your body rises out of  a 
             chilly car,

BLAM.

From there you enter another air conditioning zone:
a general store at the edge of mountain lore.

This place has everything from Bibles to good bourbon.

I almost bought a foot long sausage. I almost bought a gun.
I did buy cowboy postcards, mostly made for fun.
Food and security. Winter just over the ridge, four weeks hence.

I used to watch Death Valley Days.
Death was hinted, but not shown—the wagon turned over,
The wagon train a going.

O, those long-suffering white people fearful of Indians and scared of
             bandits,
desperate for shade, for water, for land flowing milk and honey.

Hard-bitten men and sad-eyed women trekking.
How grand those verdant acres were to be.
What they got was land just green enough for wandering herds of
             long-horned beasts
and no where to farm, no where to hide.

Today, the wind machines whip around:                         BIG ENERGY.

Horses gambol and graze on that patch of land or this keen slope.
No wheat and corn, not even dope grows here.
But silver, gold, treasures unknown lode these mountains
inviting speculation, misery, and bad legislation.

A few miles up from Sun Valley, we enter a trail.
Mike and Nancy smile and cajole.
Straw hat and baseball cap attest to sun's plenty.
Their walking sticks to the rocks' ready
challenge to ankles and limbs.
Our water pouches are overflowing.
What were my friends thinking?

We slip and slide on the side of this mountain and step aside
for the sculpted women in tank tops and biker shorts—trotting as
               fast as
Nancy and Mike's favorite dog
She runs ahead following the blonde beauties until all is shadow.
We greet each other with glee.

I am the novice hiker. I am afraid of falling into thin air.
One large Black woman with a bum knee. What were they
             thinking?

She will love the smell. Pine, sage, and cypress.
She will love the sound. Wind shakes aspens. Water crinkles rock
She will love the sight. Wildflowers—whites, yellows, purples and
               reds:
Indian paintbrush, sego lily, the wily cinquefoil.

When friends give you what you need, what more can you ask?
Oh the pleasure in a mountain's power to quiet a panicked heart.
The glade refined.
Hawk's home, wolf's dream, bears far away.

Stewards of American beauty—these are the paths my friends make
               in wild places
—the rise and fall of future walks.

I salute their obsession for Idaho's red undulating hills.
Whose mountain ranges east to west like those in the Himalayas

says a guidebook, but ours is a different story—in this young
              mountain,
on these new hills, circumspect is the American West.

Where people steal
a drop of ore,
a native flower,
a piece of splendor
day in and day out.

Patricia Spears Jones, "What Beauty Does" from A Lucent Fire. Copyright © 2015 by Patricia Spears Jones.  Reprinted by permission of White Pine Press.
Source: A Lucent Fire (White Pine Press, 2015)
More Poems by Patricia Spears Jones