Christine Hemp has served as Park Poet for three U.S. National Parks-- writing poems, giving workshops for visitors and rangers, and leaving poems for future visitors.
click to see her poem for Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Mt. Rainier National Park
for Mt. Rainier National Park on its Centennial Celebration
AUGUST 14, 1999
for Mt. Rainier National Park
on its Centennial Celebration
My father would say, “The Mountain’s out
today!” and he’d smile while I, astonished
looked across at him behind the wheel.
Driving down I-5, it was as if he had a magic
eye. How do you know? I’d ask again.
Then we’d round the bend and sure
enough, like Oz at the end of the road,
or the biggest ice cream cone ever: Elegant
flowing, pink with morning sun, the shapely
mountain stood in our path, spilling
glaciers down her sides. Years later
my father confessed
about the cut in the trees on one stretch
of the highway —where on a clear day,
the mountain peeked
through for an instant. We marveled
at his mystic powers, but how, in the end,
it’s the mountain who has the last word.
She decides when she’ll grace us
with her shape or when she’ll hide
for days and weeks, shrouded with clouds.
Tonight on the shoulder of this peak
we huddle, bound by the night and edges
of what is wild. The summit is hidden, but
in our bones and flesh we feel
the stirrings underneath. Volcanic veins
and glacial waters pulse and flow. We are but
a drop in the giant vessel, glittering briefly,
then disappearing downstream, gone
with the tide of all that passes.
This mountain stays. She is not only nature
but wilderness and wildness, unfettered
by choice or moral code. Tomorrow we will pour
down her sides and leave this corporate body
of timber and ice. But like a lover
whose scent we carry always, the mountain
will reveal herself again through the cut
in the trees of our daily lives – when
folding laundry, sipping coffee, or checking
e-mail. Suddenly we’ll hear, “The Mountain
is out!” and we’ll be filled with a restless
longing, a primal urge, and slowly we’ll turn
our faces toward the face of mighty Tahoma,
forever stirred by what she holds.