As the temperatures rocketed into the 70s in Central Oregon after winter storms, I discover the “River Poet” along a stretch of the Deschutes River–following a trail pungent in junipers, sage, and redolent in spring signs, from mourning cloak butterflies to pussy willows. Meandering in the delectable sunshine, I glimpse a flickering piece of oblong brown paper attached to a juniper limb with cotton twine. And there it is…a one-sentence calligraphy poem from a modern Basho.

The breeze is fluttering the poem into a butterfly as I read the lines…“Osprey dives SPLASH comes up EMPTY.” The poem has become “poet-tree.”

The ospreys have recently returned from their Baja winter homes. Hmmmm…I ponder the meaning. The dive creates the SPLASH. I feel the call in the way the kingfisher led me to be courageous. This time, the splash is all delight and playfulness. To come up EMPTY in the way of osprey talons extended to grasp nothingness might be deemed missing the mark or not. I muse on “empty” as unencumbered, so well expressed in the chorus of the Greg Brown song, “Spring Wind:”

“Love calls like the wild birds-
It’s another day
A Spring wind blew my list of
things to do…away”

My pace slows. I rub cedary branching needles of juniper between fingers and inhale the resiny scent. Wait! Just there! A second piece of paper twirls close to the river’s edge, also tied to a juniper branch. Here, the river rocks are flat, polished, and the color of a thunderstorm. Red osier dogwood limbs are still bare of buds and their tall scarlet tendrils snake skyward.

The poem is spinning so much I cannot read the words, also blurred from recent rain. I grasp the paper carefully and read: “Water ripples over stone- heron stands guard at river’s edge.” I feel a wash of gratitude for this poet who is not present, in the way of the great blue heron who is not here, yet I know the grace of long slender neck and slow-step stalk.

In the way of threes, I find a third poem. How long will each one last before the cotton threads into a bird nest and the brown paper tatters back into the earth? I value nature without signs of us there, yet in this case? I love the poems. It’s April Poetry Month after all, and I am inspired by the unfurled scrolls.

Heading uphill to another juniper to read the last poem twisting in a breathy breeze, I meet three people walking a dog on the soft earth trail and cannot resist telling them of my find. The man and two women watch and wait as I read the lines aloud, “Snow in robin’s nest, as if it belonged there.” They tell me they come here three times a week and had never noticed the poems. While I am smitten, they are curious and promise to look for more along the way.

Perhaps this is one purpose of the river poet–to offer the gift of close observation, of curiosity, and of simple beauty etched in a calligraphy of belonging–like snow in a robin’s nest.

I begin to compose my own one-line poems in this place of sensory slowdown within the ease of a warm day. The poet has awakened me to notice anew. Here is a sampling, with gratitude to the “River Poet:”

My poem added later inspired by all of the above!


A wind chime
this calligraphy twisting
from juniper limb, inked brown paper,
breezed river breath.

“Osprey dives. SPLASH. Comes up EMPTY”

As chickadee asks the unanswerable,
tree swallows twig the sky into a living wreath
whispering first butterflies
from cocoons.

Catkins are the ringing bells,
Orange fritillary the sparked ember kindling
golden willows and red-osier dogwoods
to bud and leaf

as whitewater flowers from jade currents
conversing in many tongues—
rollicky rush, pooled eddy, surging
spray song.

“Snow in robin’s nest as if it belonged there”

Seeking the belted kingfisher, I find
poetry threaded with cotton twine,
hung on cedary-needled branches, spinning
sage words

“Water ripples over stone- heron stands guard at river’s edge.”

Scrub jay castanets alarm. Sharp-shinned hawk scythes
blue-black clouds and kingfisher is the burning
arrow. Each fleeing fish
a flickered flame.

The work of the poet is to wander,
press juniper-scented fingers to nose until
giddy with tangy floral gin, becoming
Dionysus of the Deschutes.