Leave No Trace
No gate, no main entrance, no ticket, no ranger. Not far
From where Frost once raised chickens and ill-fated children, near
Where the Old Man’s glacier-hewn face though bolstered to
Its godlike roost by rods and turnbuckles slid
From our fledgling millennium into oblivion,
You can cross the Pemigewasset on a bridge
Then, compass-north but southbound on the trail,
Ascend an old grassed-over logging road
To the carved out collarbone of Cannon Mountain.
This is Lonesome Lake. How you go from here
Depends on why you’ve come: to out a spruce grouse
Or listen for the whee-ah of a Bicknell’s thrush;
For a breezy picnic or a midlife crisis,
A long haul or a day trip to the cascades.
Bring for your purposes only what you need:
Salmon jerky, a canteen or Camelbak,
Band-aids, a ratchet and strap, a roughed-up heart.
Bring sunblock, a notebook, the Beatles, Beyoncé,
The Bhagavad Gita, a Bible, some Hitchens or Hegel.
However long you stay you must leave nothing.
No matchbox, no pole-tip, no grommet, no cup.
Carry in and out your Clif Bar wrappers,
Your fear of bears and storms. Keep the rage
You thought you’d push through your boot-soles into the stones,
The grief you hoped to shed. If you think you’ve changed,
Take all your changes with you.
If you lift
An arrowhead from the leaves, return it. Pocket
No pinecone, no pebble or faery root. Resist
The painted trillium even if its purple throat
Begs to be pressed between your trail guide’s pages.
Copyright © 2016 by Maggie Dietz. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
About this Poem
"I focus here on the area of the trail in New Hampshire around Franconia Notch in the White Mountains, and the poem lifts its imperative voice from 'Directive' by Robert Frost, who lived in Franconia with his family for a few years after his return from England. Striking to me is the egalitarian spirit of the trail—all are welcome, and you’ll find no fee or turnstile at its hundreds of trailheads. The trail was built by volunteers and is maintained by volunteers. The practice 'Leave No Trace' is part of a long tradition of trail etiquette encouraging respect for other hikers and wildlife, and the preservation of wild spaces. The poem became in part a meditation on that directive."
Maggie Dietz is the author of That Kind of Happy (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and Perennial Fall (University of Chicago Press, 2006). She lives in New Hampshire.
Date Published: 2016-11-17
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/leave-no-trace