On the Fern Canyon Trail
by Peter Serchuk
It’s best to hit this trail twice.
First in April, when the season’s last storm
has likely passed, already hiked across
the great central valley and laid its head
on Sierras’ slopes. In April, you’re still
taking a chance with the Pacific magician,
but the odds are good. Not so the trail.
Everything’s slick. Every step rides
a muddy glaze hungry for a slip.
Still, if you’ve got half a day, a reliable stick
and patience waterproof as your boots,
you can hike the whole of it, see what misery
nature wreaks upon itself. Whatever’s left
of ferns is a trampled mess, as if the storms
knew you’d follow, suspected a spy and shredded
the secrets you hoped to find. And the redwoods,
giants to men, are pick-up sticks when lightning
has its way; torched or exploding, limbs
amputated, uprooted, bodies sliding down
the oily slopes or falling into the arms of brothers
still lucky, still standing, against wind and rain.
Lesson learned? Every year, nature wages civil war.
But come back again, in early July. Come back
when the trail is dry and the canyon blooms
with ferns of every kind: Five-finger, bird’s-foot,
stamp, sword and deer. When the big leaf maple
and Douglas fir dapple light and scent the air.
When underneath, wild cucumber and berry bush
paint a path beside the Little River’s song.
Yes, come back again in July and look up, as far
as the soul may tilt. Look up and see the redwoods,
lords again of ground and sky. See them point you
past heartache, past doubt and shame, point you
to forgiveness, heaven and beyond; to all
you might endure and all you might become. ■
Peter Serchuk (“On the Fern Canyon Trail,” p. 13) is the author of two collections of poetry: Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner (University of Illinois Press) and All That Remains (WordTech Editions). His poems have appeared in Boulevard, The Paris Review, North American Review, The Hudson Review, Texas Review and other places.