Mission Pine Ridge (II)
By: Paul Willis
Sun in the top of a sugar pine,
first taste of a May morning.
Limbs reach out as if to touch
the blueing sky on every hand,
offering their green curved cones
perfused with sap as if with honey.
David Douglas quested the length
of the Willamette and then some,
into the drainage of the Umpqua,
to find this fabled tree and its fruit.
To get there he dodged Indians
and grizzly bears, or so he said,
and swam the forks of many rivers.
A few years later, staying as a guest
of friars at the Mission Santa Barbara,
did he know these trees were waiting
just a few miles from the sea, their cones
still glistening, still depending?
—San Rafael Wilderness
Paul Willis has published six collections, among the most recent of which are Getting to Gardisky Lake and Deer at Twilight: Poems from the North Cascades, both from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Tahoma Literary Review, Writer's Almanac, and Best American Poetry. He is a professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.
"Growing up in western Oregon, I was fascinated by the explorer-botanist David Douglas, who ranged the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s and 1830s. He also spent a year or so in California, where he traveled as far south as Santa Barbara, my current home. The climax of the narratives in Douglas's journals is his somewhat epic journey to the headwaters of the Willamette and into the drainage of the Umpqua in quest of the sugar pine, which he finally found near what is now Roseburg, Oregon. He was amazed by the height and beauty of the trees and the size of the sugar pine cones. Perhaps fifteen miles inland from the Santa Barbara Mission, where he would have later stayed, sugar pine trees line the ridgetop, but Douglas may not have known this. So I visit these trees on his behalf."