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Saying Goodbye to Estella Brown

Estella Brown
Layed Two Rest
July 29 1891

- Grave marker on Oregon Trail -

Do you know your name means Star?

I am elk hunting and it is gently swirling
As I stand beneath Commissary Ridge
In the middle of the mountains
Looking down at this lost grave

I am not lost

I know where I am and what I am doing

This is something that I know
This I do well
Finding my way in these mountains

* * *

It was raining at dawn

I loaded my rifle and stepped out
Into the black trees
Breathing the damp pine wind
Feeling the messages in the ground

My feet moved surely
Heading south in the dark
Following the ridge
Striding undulant, wrecked country
Torn from some stonefrozen sea bottom

Seven generations of my family's feet
Have walked this ground
Hunters all
This is what we do each fall

Raised in the Overthrust
The elk and we have roamed east and west
Across this country all our lives
Moving to water grass flesh earth
And back again

I know what I am looking for this day
So I have put on my hunter's eyes

The elk too sense why I am here
And that is what we do together
The elk and I

Thumping hooves cracking brush

A lost calf's bleat

That was this morning early
In the grey drizzle light

Now it is swirling midday snow
As I stare at this forgotten grave
Here in the middle of the mountains

Wind and mist

High on the ridge
Tendrils of cloud are torn loose by trees
Then drift down and go to damp nothingness
As they flirt through the glen

Perhaps a wife
Of the misspelling man whose heart
Graved your stone
Then broke in the leaving of you here

My people followed wagon roads
To these mountains

This is something that we well know—
Having our dead in this ground
Amid the swirling cloud and snow

But I have come to this place
To see you
And to somehow say goodbye to this country

I have become the restless misspelling man
You knew in your years

I too am ignorant for my times
And lose the things I love

It is time to leave
This folded ground and weather
These high, snowing places
In the middle of the mountains

Leave these animals and you


Drive down the mountain
Follow the river
To the place where the little that I have left
Is packed

And go

We are the westering ones
Who somehow end in unloved places
You and I

Did you have the years
The wisdom
To know where you were going?

Or were you as unknowing as I?

Did you even suspect your name meant star?


Jon Horton

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