All this country is prone to burn, the chaparral-clad upper slopes
where the brink of Big Sur canyon plunges
toward the headwaters of its tributaries,
the rumpled mantle of scrub oak and brush
that hugs the shoulders and precipitous southern flanks
of the ridges trending down the coast in undulating folds,
manzanita, toyon, ceanothus, chamise,
evergreen shrubs with stubby needles, hard leaves,
waxy faces and dull undersides
for the torrid rainless summers: September lightning fires
draft up the steep ravines, their volatile oils vaporize and explode
thicket by thicket in roiling sheets of flame.
Once in twenty years it burns for weeks.
After the first rains in February
a flush of forbs and grasses overspreads the ashes
with rank growth where the soil burnt clear of shade lies re-exposed to daylight.
By June ground squirrels will be numerous
and sleek from foraging its luxuriance
and, the April after, coyote litters large,
glossy pups on point in the lank weeds hunting ground squirrels
and on the knob above the spring hungry eaglets in the nest.
Higher, on the summit's landward peak
a careful circle of small rocks encloses
yucca, yerba santa, sage, live oak,
at the center a fire ring facing west, hearthstone
overlooking the immense hump of the opalescent Pacific Ocean.
Lodged on the waist-high cairn on the seaward crest
a spindly cedar fragment points true north.
At the tip of a wand tied with blue thread
three feathers flutter, invisible at any distance.
© 2001, Jim Powell