The Executioner's Face

January 25, 2022

WelcomeWelcomeTalent, Oregon

The following was published Sept. 16, 2020 by New Verse News.

The Executioner's Face

By Matt Witt

We load the car --

two sets of clothes and

a lifetime of memories --

as skyscraper flames are destroying

hundreds of homes of

friends and neighbors

a mile away.

Did they get out in time?

And then what?

 

We hit the back roads,

searching for safety,

with Bob Dylan howling through car speakers:

"The soles of my feet,

I swear they're burning."

 

Decades of reports said

this was coming

without climate action.

"Hotter temperatures."

"Disappearing snowpack."

"More frequent and more intense fires."

"Urgent transition needed to solar."

"Rapid investment in energy efficiency."

 

We can already picture

the photos the media will feed us

of some scraggly guy with stringy hair

who may have dropped a match --

with headlines: “What caused the fire?”

 

There will be no photos of

corporate lobbyists

whose puppets for years said

let's double down on what got us here

or who gave us half measures

and asked for applause.

 

We drive through the smoke,

community destroyed,

and now Dylan’s voice is sounding more desperate:

"The executioner's face,” he wails,

“is always well hidden."


Legacy

December 31, 2021

Whitebark PineWhitebark PineCrater Lake National Park, Oregon

This poem and photo appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:

 

Legacy

By Matt Witt

 

Alone

trying to find my way up

with no trail

no footprints to follow

just snow

 

Through woods of firs and hemlocks

climbing steep open spaces

that would be meadows in summer

but now are huge white expanses

too cold to melt

 

Higher

a whitebark pine

alone

sticking out of the snow

 

After three miles

the Crater Lake rim

formed by a volcano

thousands of years ago

 

The lake

a caldera

twenty square miles

winter blue

 

Frigid wind

cornices of unsupported snow

one wrong step

into the water

two thousand feet below

and almost two thousand feet deep

 

To the left

a massive peak

named by white men

for a president’s son

 

To the right

another

named for a federal agent

who annihilated native people

 

Peaks named as if this place

is a monument

to their legacy

 

This place

that was here

long before us

and will be here

long after we

melt away

like the snow

I am standing on

 

Back then

average snowfall

was nearly twice

what it is now

and the lake and air

were many degrees cooler

 

Habitat for

furry pikas

whitebark pines

and gray-crowned rosy finches

already in danger

and that’s just the beginning

 

Our legacy

what to name it?


Migrant

December 11, 2021

Green-Tailed Towhee Taking a BathGreen-Tailed Towhee Taking a BathCascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon

This poem and photo were published by New Verse News on May 27, 2021.

MIGRANT

By Matt Witt

This green-tailed towhee
that weighs about an ounce
migrated more than 1,000 miles
from its wintering home in Mexico
to its annual nesting ground
in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument,
where I watched it taking a bath at a tiny spring.
 
It migrates every year,
eluding hawks and falcons,
braving snowstorms and lightning,
never losing its way.
 
This bird is a lot stronger
than I’ll ever be.

Beartooth Beauty

September 28, 2019

The following article appeared in the Billings (MT) Gazette on Sept. 28, 2019.

Sandhill Crane at SunsetSandhill Crane at SunsetAbsaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Wyoming

By Matt Witt

It was 8:30 p.m. on a late July evening in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness when an hour-long barrage of one-inch hailstones finally stopped pounding my tent above Native Lake.

The lightning, which had been so close I couldn’t finish saying “one, one thousand” before thunder boomed, had finally moved about five miles away.

Hearing only a slight drizzle, I grabbed my camera and crawled out of the tent. The light was low, but pink sunset clouds were still reflecting in nearby tarns that were surrounded by the newly fallen hail.

In the other direction, dense clouds and the lake itself were glowing with the most vibrant purple I’d ever seen.

This scene was just one of the highlights of nine days I spent as an Artist in Residence for the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation (ABWF) this past summer.

In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, ABWF sponsors several Artists in Residence each summer to spend seven to ten days in the wilderness, drawing inspiration from the beauty and solitude for their painting, writing, musical compositions, or other work.

For me, the artist residency in an ecosystem very different than where I live in rural Oregon gave me unusual opportunities to apply my “Closer to Nature” approach to photography, focusing in on simple details and uncluttered images in an attempt to see nature’s beauty with fresh eyes.

I photographed a sandhill crane silhouetted against a dramatic yellow sunset.

An intensely yellow-orange lily flower was reflected in a lake.

A rainbow appeared above trees colored with red sunset light.

Textures caught my eye on big boulders that I later learned were fossilized coral.

I had a relatively rare encounter with a pika and photographed a lone whitebark pine – both species in jeopardy as climate change threatens the cold environments they require.

As a follow-up to this artist residency, I’m now sharing these and many other images with ABWF to use in its educational work promoting and maintaining wilderness, as well as posting them for the public at MattWittPhotography.com.

With the high-altitude weather sometimes turning harsh, and no one else around for much of the time, I had plenty of time to think about the people who survived in this wilderness for thousands of years without having a car at a trailhead or housing to go back to with electricity and heat. Given how much time most of us spend sheltered by those comforts, it seems more important than ever to protect wilderness and all the living things that depend on it.

This summer, two other artists took part in ABWF’s program. One was Stephanie Rose (StephanieRoseArtist.com), a painter who used a Forest Service cabin as a her base of operations.

“I painted a collection of field studies, each of which seared into my memory my impressions of a particular place,” Rose said. “I will use these field studies to grow paintings in the studio, where I am able to further distill the motif I want to communicate to other people.”

The other was Marc Beaudin (CrowVoice.com), a poet and theater artist who worked from a remote Forest Service cabin up the Boulder River south of Big Timber.

“I finished a manuscript of poetry called Life List, where each poem honors a different bird species that has made an impact on my life and writing,” Beaudin said. “Having several days and nights without electricity, and all the disruptive technologies that come with it, meant there was nothing to take me away from my work, and having the power and beauty of the mountains, forest and river around me meant constant inspiration to keep at it.”

This was the sixth year the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation has operated its Artist in Residence Program, according to David Kallenbach, ABWF’s executive director. 

“I’ve been astounded by how many people have found out about the opportunity and by the diverse qualities of the artists who have participated in the program – from a videographer to a paper-making artist to a composer, as well as painters, writers, and poets,” Kallenbach said.

To learn more about the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation and how to get involved in its many volunteer opportunities, see ABWilderness.org.

 


Madrone on the Hill

July 12, 2019

Madrone on the HillMadrone on the HillTalent, Oregon This poem, together with this photo, was published in the July/August 2019 edition of Jefferson Journal, the magazine of Jefferson Public Radio serving Northern California and Southern Oregon from Mendocino and Redding to Eugene and all communities in between.

Madrone on the Hill

By Matt Witt

The old madrone tree

stands by itself

at the very top of the hill

above our house

in southern Oregon.

 

In spring, small bell-shaped flowers.

In summer, peeling red bark

on a smooth yellow-green core.

In autumn, berries that feed quail,

raccoons, and bears.

 

When winter snow and fog

make it hard to see,

the old madrone stands tall

and waits for spring.

 

Near the bottom of the hill,

the grave of John Beeson

who came here to farm

with his wife and son

just before the Civil War.

 

He could climb this hill

for a longer view

and see the Table Rocks,

Grizzly Peak,

and Bear Creek flowing

to the Rogue River,

all millions of years

in the making.

 

Down below

he also saw

native people killed

like deer

by men who proclaimed

their Christian faith.

 

He protested,

sent articles,

spoke at meetings,

until a mob told him to

pack his things

and leave.

 

Back east, he published

“A Plea for the Indians,”

made his case to President Lincoln,

gave speeches in

New York and Boston.

 

If John Beeson could stand

with this giant madrone today

he would see a town

where anti-immigrant posters

appear in the night.

 

But also where

three hundred residents

defended a local mosque.

 

Season after season

John Beeson is still here,

like our old madrone

at the very top of our hill.

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