Poet Damon Falke remembers the day when a mentor handed him a sack and said, "Read these, man. They'll change your life."
"The book sale in those days happened each spring at a non-profit outdoor educational center, where I went to work as a young teenager. In those years I lived in a southern Utah river town, so mostly I scrubbed coolers for raft trips. But then one year I worked the book sale. I helped set up the tables in the little front yard the center maintained, then carefully arranged the books, with their covers up. The day before the sale, a man I wanted desperately to think of as an old friend came to look over the books. His name was Paul. Paul was close to twenty years my senior, and he was nearly an idea to me, a sort of ambition of what I might become if I stayed in the West. He was a self-described hippie who mentioned just once but with some pleasure that he had been tear gassed. He was a native seed planter, a skier, a backpacker, a traveler. He was also a strong reader. Paul read books because there were things in them to know and things to love. He purchased three books that day: On the Road, A Guide to the Colorado Mountains, and The Monkey Wrench Gang. Much to my surprise and delight, he handed the books to me in a neat paper sack, and said, “Read these, man. They’ll change your life!” He was smiling when he said those words. I remember the desert looked big over his shoulders. I thought about what he might have wanted me to know when he handed me the books. Now that I've lived with them for so long, I wonder if he knows how valuable those gifts were."
Falke considers how quiet moments can become gifts that, through memory, we unwrap in the present:
"From atop the bridge you might watch
The river bend into the country,—
See the hills carved from stone walls,
See the rain that is here but broken
Into patches of sunlight warming those
Who would pass under them. Perhaps
This is the last gift from those birds
Teaching us to look before they are gone.
Below is the river—the wake and tremor
Of water going on and going out
Between those countries you have kept.
One life or another saved beneath the stones
That remind you to look for the treeline
Where the valley still ends, but notice
Again how the sky is triggered with rain,—
Notice how the wind begs you to lift
Your hands as though in prayer
When you might rest on better wings."
(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 6/10/15. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)