Water rapidly rushes over the
gorge under the approving gaze
of the assembled travelers
while the land slumps past
the stumps of trees recently
cut down over the road closed
west to Bridal Veil.
Nearby ashen mute moss-covered
tree trunks stand tall
at attention, sporting bright
green leaves on wounded branches
as green shoots and yellowed grass poke
through the ground. Life begins again.
Most of the times I pass by Multnomah Falls one of two conditions is true. One, I am in some kind of mad rush to get somewhere or it is simply too dark to see anything. Both of those, unsurprisingly, happened on my way to and from the Dalles. As it happens, during the morning I passed Multnomah Falls on my way to the Dalles to deliver my remez sermonette  to the congregation in the Dalles, where about twenty people attended services, a considerable amount of whom (myself included) ended up returning to the home of a large family to eat and talk, which I did until it was pretty late in the evening before driving home in darkness past the falls on my return trip. Yet although I can count the number of times I have stopped at Multnomah Falls on one hand , I often find the site itself to be particularly striking, and as a poet who at least occasionally turns his poetic muse to God’s creation, it is one of the more obvious aspects of that creation that is within my usual haunts, and something that it might be mandatory for poetic or artistic-minded Oregonians to deal with at least once for the sake of completeness.
Despite the fact that I was in a bit of a hurry, the scene I saw was interesting enough to note in poetry, largely because of what I saw as the striking contrast between the signs of new life and the obvious recognition of the damage that the area had suffered as a result of a recent and lamentable forest fire. The juxtaposition of the beautiful leaves and evidence of new life peaking through the ground and the obvious signs of damage present at the same time struck me as particularly poetic. To be sure, Multnomah Falls and the surrounding area was a good deal more beautiful before the recent fires, but those who are aware of my life are no doubt aware of the fact that the combination of resilience and the wounds of lamentable and serious damage is a very Nathanish thing to muse on. I will not go into greater detail at this time as to why it is Nathanish, only to say that it is.
Alright, so let’s look at the poem as a whole and examine the imagery of it. I would venture to say that as I was thinking about this poem I was seeing the poem as a case study in contrasts, and it certainly ended up that way even beyond my original intentions to talk about the contrast between the evidence of death and destruction and the closing sense of optimism in new life that I could see even as I rushed by. For one, although I happened to see these falls (as I often do) on the Sabbath day, both I and the water in the falls itself were in a hurry. Likewise, while I was on my way to assemble with brethren as God had commanded, the falls showed many people assembling to perhaps unwittingly honor God for His creation at one of the more spectacularly beautiful parts of that creation (admittedly I am a bit biased), especially considering those parts of creation easily accessible from a large city. Then you have the contrast of water rushing over the gorge while being subject to the appreciative and approving gaze of people. There is often a great deal of criticism about the male gaze, but those gazing at the falls were both male and female, and the poem itself is a lyrical description in the form of a free verse poem about creation as seen through my own transparently male gaze.
Nor do the contrasts stop there. The travelers managed to assemble there at the falls even though old US 30 was closed from Bridal Veil east to the falls as a result of landslides resulting from the loss of tree cover and possibly other damage. Needless to say, the specific location name of “Bridal Veil” is especially evocative for a poet like myself to mention and is a clear contrast with certain aspects of my own personal life which serve as the context of so much of what I write. The land slumps past trunks of trees that have been cut down while other trunks, in contrast, stand tall and straight. Yet those trees which stand tall, although eloquent in their beauty are mute, and while they are darkened from the burn that they suffered, and though their limbs are wounded by the fires that they endured, on those trunks is one form of new life while the wounded branches themselves are covered in vivid green leaves. Even that which is wounded and scarred and damaged can bring forth vibrant new life, making the scene that much more poignant.
The scene was such a poignant one for me, so pregnant with layers of meaning and relevance that as soon as I reached the place for services I pulled out one of my notebooks in my backpack and handwrote a first draft of the poem to which I made a few light edits before typing it here, making sure to include some of the details I thought particularly notable about the scene. I do not know the extent to which the others who happened to see the falls today were struck by the same contrasts that I was, or if they were upset that one could still see so many signs of the damage or that the repair to the road infrastructure of the area was going so slowly. At any rate, the falls are still showing signs of life although they will likely bear the scars of the damages suffered for some time to come. Do we choose to recognize the damages suffered or the vibrant life that remains, or come to grips with the complex and bittersweet combination of the two that is so emblematic of our own lives so often. I leave it to the reader to decide.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: