The new grass rising in the hills, the cows loitering in the morning chill, a dozen or more old browns hidden in the shadows of the cottonwoods beside the streambed. I go higher to where the road gives up and there's only a faint path strewn with lupine between the mountain oaks. I don't ask myself what I'm looking for. I didn't come for answers to a place like this, I came to walk on the earth, still cold, still silent. Still ungiving, I've said to myself, although it greets me with last year's dead thistles and this year's hard spines, early blooming wild onions, the curling remains of spider's cloth. What did I bring to the dance? In my back pocket a crushed letter from a woman I've never met bearing bad news I can do nothing about. So I wander these woods half sightless while a west wind picks up in the trees clustered above. The pines make a music like no other, rising and falling like a distant surf at night that calms the darkness before first light. "Soughing" we call it, from Old English, no less. How weightless words are when nothing will do.
Originally appeared in The New Yorker, 2001. Copyright © 2001 by Philip Levine. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.