Let your heart be a portal for the songs of the universe.

Friday, January 25, 2013

El Espíritu Cholla

Not much invites more wonderment than large snowflakes emerging from heavy overcast and floating topsy-turvy to their destinations. Buoyed by gentle winds the shadowy flocks of ethereal eiderdown emanating from ashen clouds settle as immaculate coverlets on earthly realms. No two are the same. Each fragile conglomerate of crystals longs for the touch of its kinfolk. Their fleeting tenure as allies of Snow Owl Woman transforms humdrum prairie lands into a remarkable gallery of fine art. They clasp El Espiritu Cholla striding through knee-deep snows, turn bunch grasses into snow shelters, and coddle budding elms. Fence lines become dramatic statements of human intrusion. My cup runneth over. While I indulge my senses the blankets of soft reality incite Cooper to romp on the wild side.



Think Snow (Cooper)



Delicate Balance



Winter Fence Line



El Espíritu Cholla



Lights, Camera, Action (Cooper)



Soft Reality




Gentle Hand Of Winter



Winter Wonderland (Cooper)



Snow Umbrella (Siberian Elm)



Rabbit Sign



Tuna On Ice (cylindropuntia imbricata)



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shadow Dancers


On the high plains of Eastern New Mexico snow prefers to arrive on gale force winds. Its destiny are magnificent drifts. They linger for days in the wind shadow of deep-rooted yuccas.

A day or two of thaws followed by hard overnight freezes leaves both the glorious heaps of snow and more chiseled tailpieces firm enough to support my weight. Even so, Cooper and I tread lightly during our morning jaunt across the prairie, lest we suffer outrageous fortune at the hands of such exquisite elegance. The mid-morning sun dances freely across the bristling throng of yucca rosettes and ice sculptures. The give-and-take of shadows and light soon conjures up images of dancers on a stage aglow in winter splendor. Without hesitation and total abandon, Cooper and I join the dance troupe in the merriment. We are shadow dancers.


© Ilija Lukić 2013


Tread Lightly (Cooper)

Shadow Dancers (yucca campestris)

Espíritus De La Tierra

Cholla Triumph (cylindropuntia imbricata)

Racing Yuccas

Frozen Vantage Point (Cooper)

A Trail Less Travelled (Cooper)



Snow Dog Paradise (Cooper)

Snow Swells

High Plains Nessie (yucca campestris)


Receding Snows (Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Burrow)

Northeasterly Winds (yucca campestris)

Snow Snakes

Nine O'Clock Shadow (Cooper)

Porcupine Migration (yucca campestris)


Saturday, January 19, 2013

High Plains Passages


Azurite-hued winter skies, appreciable northerly winds, and balmy temperatures in the thirties are the last reminders of White Owl Woman’s most recent sojourn on the Llano Estacado. She departs our high plains with an entourage of Canada Geese. Her parting whispers form immaculate crystals of frost on the shortgrass prairie. Her breath entwines with the inflight chatter of the black-headed honkers and the lonesome wail of a distant train horn to admonish us of her certain return.

White Owl Woman leaves with snapshot memories of snow dressed aisles through Siberian Elm thickets. On her journey she reminisces of lonesome strolls on beaten tracks across yucca-strewn tablelands. She gives out a few hearty chuckles about rough prairie passages with thorny consequences. And best of all, her repertoire of stories brims once more with fresh tales of a courageous hunter and his red dog in hot pursuits of wildlife spoor.

White Owl Woman ends her icy tryst with the prairie by mid-morning. As throughout time immemorial, she cedes dominion over her wintry thoroughfares on the Llano Estacado gracefully to the colorful serenades of freeze-dried summer splendor.


© Ilija Lukić 2013


Cozy Aisle

Colla Byway

Beaten Track

Hot Pursuit (Cooper)

Jack Rabbit Spoor

Buffalo Mosaic

Home Stretch

Rough Passage

Froth With Snows (bouteloua dactyloides)

Thorny Consequences

Lonesome Stroll

Yucca Flats

Kiss Of The White Owl Woman


Beware Of Cholla Bearing Gifts

Let There Be Life (cylindropuntia imbricata)

Llano Congregation

High Plains Trail Marker (Cooper)

Russian Thistle On Arrowfeather Threeawn

Desfile De Las Bayonatas (yucca campestris)

Harvester Ant Territory (pogonomyrmex barbatus)

Yucca Flats Winter Serenade

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trekking The USA - Clovis NM to Rainier OR


Snow cover defines the landscape once I leave the Kiowa Grasslands southeast of Santa Fe and reach the Colorado Plateau northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our Southwest colors present magical contrasts to the virgin snows. Near Aztec the road enters into a pleasant touch-and-go relationship with the River of Lost Souls, the Rio de las Animas Perdidas. More commonly known as the Animas River. The waterway is the last free-flowing river in Colorado. The lively stream is my gateway into the San Juan National Forest and foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Durango, Colorado. The Rockies loom majestically against a backdrop of ominous clouds on the northern horizon. I veer west through Cortez and by the time Arches National Park near Moab, Utah breeches skylines the vaporous gloom starts to release oodles of white down. Fortunately, twenty-degree temperatures keep the snow dry and even light traffic blows the fluff off road ways. I settle into overnight accommodations at a roadhouse in Green River.

I'm up and at ‘em at o’ dark-thirty. Sunrise is still two hours away. A two to three-inch dusting of overnight snows squeaks underfoot, while I ready my trusty horseless carriage in the crisp morning air. Ice fog drapes the banks of the Green River and forms immaculate, crystal miracles on tree branches and withered grasses. I subdue misgivings about embarking on today’s leg of my journey and cautiously head north into the Wasatch Mountains. Single digit temperatures hover near zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Ten miles out the fog lifts to reveal the first hints of dawn to the east and a moonlit expanse of snow covered landscape in winter slumber. The pearly glow of the waning night gadabout works its magic and finds a willing accomplice within the recesses of my imagination. Before long the silvery light conjures snow snakes from road side drifts and sends them slithering across my path. Alas, the sensation of my conveyance fishtailing jolts me into the here and now. At 7,500 feet above sea level, my passage at Soldier Summit lies ahead. A powder-fine onslaught of lake effect snow peppers my descent into the Great Salt Lake Basin. My next sojourn into Utah will surely involve skis and speedy chairlifts to mountain tops.

Relentless snow showers hamper progress until I reach Idaho’s Snake River Plain. The level and largely treeless farmland still echoes with stories of tribulations and successes endured by westbound pioneers trudging the Oregon Trail. Interstate Highway 84, a four-lane artery parallels the trail of yesteryear. It's a fitting tribute to their perseverance and can-do spirit. The Snake River also reverberates with ten millennia of tales Native American peoples left on the winds as they fished Pacific Salmon below Shoshone Falls.

In contrast to the travails of days gone by, I transit the Twin Falls and Boise corridor in hours rather than weeks. Just down the road I cross into Oregon at Ontario, where I bid adieu to the Snake River and set my sights on the Blue Mountains passes.  En route lies Baker City, nestled between the nearly 10,000-foot peaks of the Elkhorn Mountains to the west and the Wallowa Mountains to the east. I top my last hurdle, Deadman Pass, near Umatilla at dusk. My sojourn on the Blue Mountains route of the Oregon Trail ends with a slippery, serpentine descent into the City of Pendleton.

Daylight oozes onto the Columbia Plateau of Eastern Oregon through shrouds of ice fog and sleet. A half-inch glaze of frozen water on trees, power lines, roadways, and cars glistens under street lights and in the head lamp beams of intrepid motorists. I delay departure. By mid-morning warmer temperatures and road crews make roads passable. The Columbia River Gorge awaits.

Fog and near freezing airs belie the fiery birth of the approaches to the Columbia River. My thoughts embark on a pensive, yet fanciful excursion into primordial times. My sensibilities strain to bring deep time and the Miocene epoch of geologic time and imagery into focus. The 15 million year abyss bemuses my mind. I visualize mile-long cracks in the Earth’s crust. They hemorrhage hot basalt onto the ancient plateau. More than 300 major floods of molten rock take place over a million-year period. The flows cool in layers. By the time all is said and done the igneous rock covers some 63,000 square miles of what will become the American States of Oregon, Washington, and Utah. In some places the basalt accumulates to a thickness of 6,000 feet or more.

Time and weather have a way of taming nature’s cataclysmic handiwork. The erstwhile Oregon Trail and today’s interstate now traverse benign grass-covered lava undulations on their way to the Columbia River. Once along the river, I discover affirmation of antediluvian lava flows as they channeled down the timeworn Columbia River Gorge. I stop along the age-old river thoroughfare and marvel at some of the six-sided columnar stacks of basalt exposed by weather and highway construction work. But, as with bygone trekkers of the Oregon Trail, Mother Nature still has a hand to play with my westward sojourn.

Gusty gorge winds, freezing temperatures, and snow showers soon turn my expected jaunt towards Portland into a wintry odyssey. I stop to assess road conditions and grab a quick lunch at The Dalles. In days of yore this landmark along the Columbia separated intrepid river runners from wagon road trekkers. Their choices are a treacherous hundred mile river route or an arduous mountain road across the Cascade Range into Oregon City and the Willamette Valley. The latter route skirts the southern slopes of Mount Hood across 4,155-foot Barlow Pass.

My choice is simpler, albeit snow and ice covered. A modern four-lane ribbon of asphalt and concrete through the fabled Columbia River Gorge threads my passage between 200-foot basalt cliffs and mighty expanses of river. Numerous waterfalls emerge from snow squalls and the low cloud cover. Some tumble into precipitous chasms. Others are silver rivulets of sky on a more subtle journey to their ocean home. A pristine dusting of snow accentuates the serenity of the winter scape.

Once the gorge vanishes from my rear view mirror tempestuous winds and snow showers ease. Broken cloud cover inspires a cheerful mood. I conclude my cross country adventure in the loving arms of family in Rainier, Oregon.

Eyes Of A Child

Cooper, Leona, Chewbacca and I venture into the prairie grasslands East of our high plains hamlet by late morning. An overnight dusting of snow endures in shadows. Cooper roams just ahead and pauses to assess the white stuff under his favorite summer shade tree.

On the northern horizon orographic lift against the Llano Estacado escarpment billows ominous clouds. They bode another frigid night for high plains denizens, while the mid-winter sun struggles to warm the environs to the freezing mark. The stark beauty of a shortgrass prairie in winter slumber does not disappoint. I allow my inner child free reign under an azure New Mexico sky.

Take time to rediscover
The wisdom of childish
And trivial pursuits.

Do away with fetters
To the heart and spirit.
Engage in flights of fancy.

Have tea with a lion
On the African Savannah.
Dance on moon beams
And frolic among the stars.
Behold the universe
In a single pearl of rain.

Embrace innocence,
Accept miracles,
And see the world
Through the eyes of a child.

© Ilija Lukić 2013


In The Eyes Of A Child

Sublime Wilderness

A babbling brook the path defines,
For souls adrift in torrents of despair. 
While winter slumbers in the pines
Become the light, the mists, the air.


© Ilija Lukić 2013


This image of a forest stream in winter captured by a friend inspires my poem. She's a photographer and poet extraordinaire, a gentle spirit. She quotes Henry David Thoreau's essay Walking..."...all good things are wild and free."