POEMS ENRICH CALIFORNIA GULCH TRAIL
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
People hiking the California Gulch Trail west of
La Grande sometimes struggle to find words that capture the wonderment and beauty of the area.
Hikers need search no longer, for Deb Barrett of the La Grande Ranger District has discovered these words. They are words written by poets who never saw the trail yet unknowingly described its essence.
Barrett has developed a poetry guide for the California Gulch Trail at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Park at Blue Mountain Crossing, 16 miles west of La Grande.
Barrett has marked 11 places with wooden posts along the trail and found a poem to coincide with each. Hikers are encouraged to stop and read the poem listed for the proper site. A bench is situated at each point.
Hundreds of poems were read by Barrett before she made her 11 selections.
"I wanted to find poems which would bring the California Gulch Trail to life,'' Barrett said. "Poems that would enrich (the hikers') experience on the trail.''
Searching for the proper poems was anything but laborious for Barrett, the La Grande Ranger District's recreation forester.
"I love poetry. Poetry is the language of the soul,'' she said.
The poems complement points on the trail as perfectly as do the area's abundant ponderosa pine and wildlife.
Point 3 is a perfect example. Here hikers have emerged from the forest into a clearing where they have an expansive look at the horizon. Barrett selected "Sky'' by the late William Stafford, Oregon's former poet laureate.
"I like you with nothing. Are you what I was? What I will be?I look out there by the hour, so clear, so sure. I could smile or frown still nothing,'' reads a portion of "Sky.''
At Point 6 there is a fork in the trail. Barrett selected "The Road Less Taken'' by Robert Frost for this location. The poem reads in part:
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
"And sorry I could not travel both
"And be one traveler, long I stood
"And looked down one as far as I could
"To where it bent in the undergrowth.''
In addition to the "The Road Less Taken'' and "Sky,'' the poems in the booklet are: "The Pioneer'' by Arthur Guiterman; "Forestry,'' "The Way It Is'' and "You Reading This, Be Ready'' by William Stafford; "I Am Not I'' by Juan Ramon Jimenez; and "Come In'' by Robert Frost; an excerpt of the poem "Wilderness'' by Carl Sandburg; "The Song of Wandering Aengus'' by William Butler Yeates; and "Here'' by Jane Kenyon.
Barrett was inspired to assemble the poetry booklet because of the majestic qualities of the trail's scenery and its diversity.
"It is such a gorgeous trail, there are so many different settings, open meadows, big sky, drops into the deep woods,'' Barrett said. "You feel small among the big trees.''
People hiking at the California Gulch Trail should expect steep, difficult walking conditions. Sturdy shoes are recommended.
People who do not want to walk uphill can access the trail at a lower elevation point along the paved road leading to the park. There is a sign at this point that reads: "Lower access California Gulch Trail.'' There is a large turnout at this point for parking.
Barrett wants to add new poems for the California Gulch Trial in the future. Anyone with any suggestions is encouraged to call her at 962-8530.
Barrett has been gratified with the many positive response she has received from people who have used the poetry booklet on the trail. Completion of the trail project last year allowed Barrett to fulfill a dream she had had for several years
"I wanted to bring the experience of that particular place to life,'' Barrett said.