These days

These days


This busy spot, in 1900, was remote,
red and dusty with the Builders Brick
quarry and factory, in the mining boom,
the logging days.

Firs, countless, were as big around
as their fellers were tall,
where now a few tame plantings
punctuate the chain cafes and condos
that push into the thinned remains
of second-growth alder.
Filled with miners, Red Town, Finn Town,
White Town, Rainbow Town
hotels and cabins erected in the clearcut
are only blemished photos
and foundations mossy and hidden in bracken
between rubbled mine shafts:
Ford Slope mine, Primrose, Bagley,
May Creek mine, Muldoon seam.
Hiking trails follow the old flumes
where the hewn trunks sloshed downcreek.
Joggers and dogwalkers erase the ghosts.

Those days, horse-drawn trams lugged coal and logs
down Coal Creek to Lake Washington,
where barges continued the five-day meander
south and then up the Duwamish
to the Sound and Seattle.
Steamers then carried on
to California and profit.
A narrow-gauge steam railway ran
where this five-lane arterial now pulses
with its Teslas, Porsches,
Maseratis. Money is still made,
these days and hereabouts,
but not from solid things.


Just in the years we’ve lived here,
the horse pasture down the street has gone,
the sheep and llamas, orchards and corn.
We are now more urb than suburb.
But bobcats, bears, coyotes, possums,
even baffled cougars prowl our yards
for food, as their foothills turn
to townhouses in cul-de-sacs,
the roads that reach them,
nail shops and pizza joints,
churches, firing ranges.

The news seems very black these days
unless you think it’s white. Regardless
where you hear it, it sears the heart and eyes.
The earth is evanescent, and solid things seem
illusive, similes morph to lies,
to belief, as easily as that bright
cloud above grows murky as it gathers,
a thick, broken layer flying doggedly north.
The sun peers through the fissures,
warm in a chill wind, and blinding.
My mesmerized retinas
turn black firs against leaden grey
ember-red. It’s a changeable
day. There’s a storm warning for later.
Branches may fall, they say.
Some trees have fallen already
this gusty spring. But forecasts
have been wrong before, pessimistic,
or hoodwinked with unpredictable
conditions. I sit in sunlight when I can,
hope it lasts, but prepare for the blow.

History flows over us, bright and dark,
dissipating and bloating, threat and promise.
Soon we’ll walk trails through new deadfalls,
hunting old foundations in the leafmold.

Photos from blackdiamondhistory.files.wordpress.com and voiceofthevalley.com


  1. Bravo! A wonderfully evocative poem balanced by gritty images of past times. Some years ago I visited a West Virginia town that had lost all of its coal mining jobs, but was attempting a recovery with tourism. We visited a museum that offered a ride down a mine shaft on am electric tram. It was sobering and frightening to think of how workers descended each day into total darkness, labored in greasy dirt, and put their lives at risk for wages that could barely feed their family. And for my son it was even more meaningful to imagine doing that work at his age. The old industrial age sure left an awful lot for future generations to fix.

  2. Wonderful post and photos. My ancestors lived in logging country along the Pennsylvania-New York border and in New York's Adirondacks and Catskills regions. Those who worked as leather tanners kept moving on as the supply of tannin-rich trees was exhausted. Not much ecology back in those days. Only now can we evaluate and mourn the loss of those great timbers of yore and try to prevent similar contemporary calamities.

  3. My mother's side of the family were almost all coal miners, so I'm always intrigued by photos depicting some aspect of that life. Your poem was a nice read on this Earth Day. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I'm afraid it's much the same story anywhere you go these days. Progress is inevitable even if its not our individual idea of progress. But we still have a lot of logging going on here in the Sierra foothills. There isn't a day goes by I don't see a logging truck trudging along with a full load - mostly with trees from fire ravaged areas, or bug-killed because of the drought years.